Tim Koch writes:
The Boat Race Company recently announced that the 162nd Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race and 71st Oxford-Cambridge Women’s Boat Race will take place on Easter Sunday, 27 March 2016. Last year saw the women’s Blue boats racing on the Tideway on the same day as the men’s Blue and men’s Reserve crews for the first time. It is generally agreed that this change was a great success which generated a lot of support and interest both from within and without the rowing community. The one unsatisfactory part was that the women’s Reserve crews raced over the Putney to Mortlake course on the day before ‘Boat Race Day’ proper. I do not think that I was alone in thinking that in the move towards equality this was not a very satisfactory way of doing things, that is having the second best men as part of the big day while having the second best women compete in relative isolation and obscurity. I had thought that the only solution would be to move both of the reserve races to another day as I doubted the practicality of running four races on one tide. However, the Boat Race Company disagreed and announced:
A new addition to the racing schedule will be the Women’s Reserve race, moving from the day before to share the same day as the Blue Boats. This means there will be four races held on the tide: the Osiris-Blondie Race, The Newton Women’s Boat Race, the Isis-Goldie Race and The BNY Mellon Boat Race.
The timings for the races on Boat Race Day 2016 will be:
15:10 The Newton Women’s Boat Race
15:25 Osiris (Oxford Women’s Reserves) v Blondie (Cambridge Women’s Reserves)
15:40 Isis (Oxford Men’s Reserves) v Goldie (Cambridge Men’s Reserves)
16:10 The BNY Mellon Boat Race
At Putney on 27 March, low water will be at 12.37 and high water at 17.36.
With the women taking perhaps 19-20 minutes and the men 17-18 minutes to race the course, the Osiris-Blondie race will start before the Women’s Boat Race finishes and the Isis-Goldie race will start before the Women’s Reserve Race finishes. It is going to be an action-packed 80 minutes.
*Apologies to A.A. Milne.
You write “having the second best men as part of the big day”. Quite so, but if you’re not actually standing on the banks of the Tideway the reserve crews might as well not be racing at all. A few frames of distant video, maybe, but usually just the result. And yet the hours-long coverage has time for random slebs doing and saying stupid things, and for extended US-style “introductions” of the contestants, and long pieces to camera by the presentation team, and other bits of padding.
It’s not as if the reserve crews were of a significantly lower standard than the Blue boats; a whisker, yes, that’s why they’re reserves, but most spectators couldn’t tell the difference; surely “proper” coverage of at least some of the reserve racing would be worth doing.
I think we (‘the rowing community’) should be grateful for what we get as far as TV coverage of the Boat Race is concerned. Remember, the BBC has to produce two hours of television that must entertain the vast majority of the audience who have no connection to, knowledge of or (usually) interest in the sport of rowing. In the past the Boat Race was more often than not a race to Hammersmith and then a procession to the finish with the poor old TV commentators desperately trying to make it sound exciting. With the arrival of sponsorship and a more professional approach, crews nowadays are much fitter – but this simply means that the ‘procession’ may start later in the race (2003 and the ‘one foot’ verdict excepted). Two boats rowing for up to twenty minutes will often not be constantly riveting even for those of us who claim knowledge of the subtleties of the event and empathy with the demands placed on the participants. Most of the ‘general public’ has an interest in the day simply because of tradition of ‘The Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race’. The moving of the women’s race to the Tideway has been a great success because it brings a new dimension to an old institution. Expecting the same interest to be given to another couple of races on top of the two in the ‘main event’ is asking too much of the general audience. Agreed that some of the ‘padding’ in the Boat Race television coverage can grate on us purists but much of it can educate and entertain the wider world about our minority sport.
Tim, thank you for considered reply; I agree entirely with the direction and with most of the detail of what you say. But … no footage at all of the reserve race? Starts are fast and furious and would hold anyone’s attention, surely; and if the last stage was a procession then we could at least see a few seconds of each crew plus the moment that the winner crossed the line.