Boat Race Day 2020: Making History (Twice)

The Boat Race trophy on display at the Oxford – Cambridge Presidents’ Challenge.

23 November 2019

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch balances camera and canapés.

Winter is a cold, wet and dark time for rowers but the season has an annual event that reminds us of better days ahead. The occasion in question is the Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race Presidents’ Challenge, when those University Boat Club Presidents whose crew lost the last Boat Race officially challenge their opposite numbers to a rematch. On 20 November, athletes, alumni and special guests were invited to a restaurant in central London run by sponsors, Chapel Down, to witness the Challenge for 2020 and to celebrate this first public event in the Boat Race season.

The evening was hosted by three-time Olympic gold medallist and Oxford Old Blue, Andrew Triggs Hodge (aka, Andrew T. Hodge).

In 2019, Oxford’s men and women both came second so it was up to the Dark Blues to make the challenges. Tina Christmann, President for Oxford University Women’s Boat Club, challenged her Cambridge counterpart, Larkin Sayre, in the traditional manner:

I, Tina Christmann, President of the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club, challenge you, Larkin Sayre, on behalf of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, to an eight-oared race on the Championship Course, from Putney to Mortlake, on 29 March 2020. Do you accept? 

Left to right, Tina Christmann, Larkin Sayre and Andrew Triggs Hodge.

In a similar manner, Augustin Wambersie, the OUBC President, challenged Freddie Davidson, President of CUBC. For the record, both challenges were accepted, and Boat Race Day 2020 will go ahead.

Left to right, Augustin Wambersie, Freddie Davidson and Andrew Triggs Hodge.

After the formal part of the evening was over, the men’s and women’s Presidents posed with the trophy that only one of each pair will be covering with Champagne, sweat and saliva on 29 March 2020.

Christmann and Sayre.

Tina Christmann of Wocester College was ‘7’ in the 2019 Oxford Boat and is in the final year of her MPhil in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. Tina represented her country, Germany, at the 2013 and 2014 Junior World Championships and at the 2015 and 2017 U23 World Championships.

Larkin Sayre of Emmanuel College was in the ‘4’ seat of the victorious 2019 Cambridge Boat and is doing a PhD in Materials Science. An American, Larkin started rowing at Cambridge (the one on the Charles, USA, not the Cam, UK) while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wambersie (sporting the beginnings of a Movember mo) and Davidson.

Augustin Wambersie of St Catherine’s College was stroke of the 2019 Oxford Boat and is studying MSc Engineering Sciences. Augustin was the first Belgian national to row in a Blue boat for 156 years (although he grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he learnt to row).

Freddie Davidson is in his final year studying Engineering at Emmanuel College and he will be after a third Boat Race victory. He started rowing at St. Paul’s School, London, and has since gone on to represent GB at both the Junior and U23 World Championships.

Amelia Standing, a second-year engineer from St Anne’s College and a veteran of the 2019 Race.

As part of his presentation, Andrew Triggs Hodge asked some of the Boat Race squad rowers in the room how they started in the sport. Amelia Standing of Oxford said that she was inspired by the 2012 Olympics – when she was 12. The instant reaction of many of us slightly older people present was to think that surely 2012 was only a year or two ago… wasn’t it? It took a little bit of mental arithmetic to confirm that Amelia was in fact old enough to be up late on a school night.

Two pieces of Boat Race history were revealed with the announcement of the umpires for the men’s and the women’s races. Firstly, when Sarah Winckless takes charge of the 166th Boat Race, it will be the first time that a woman has umpired this event (though Sarah did umpire the men’s reserves, Isis – Goldie, in 2016).

Sarah Winckless umpiring at Henley in 2017.

Sarah rowed for Cambridge in 1995, 1996 and 1997 and was CUWBC President 1996 – 97. In the Olympics, she was in the double in Sydney 2000 (9th), in the double again in Athens 2004 (Bronze) and in the eight in Beijing 2008 (5th). In the World Championships, there were Gold Medal wins in the quad in 2005 and 2006. In 2017, she was the first female Henley umpire and also in that year was the first woman to become an Oxford – Cambridge Tideway Boat Race Umpire, taking charge of that year’s women’s race.

Sarah briefing the coxes before the 2015 Oxford – Cambridge Veterans’ Race.

I spoke to Sarah after the announcement:

Having the opportunity to umpire the men’s Boat Race completes my pack! I have done Isis – Goldie, Osiris – Blondie, and the Women’s Blue Boats… It’s a real honour and privilege to be the first woman in 166 years… When I was asked to become an umpire, I said ‘no’ at first, saying that I did not have the time. Then… there was that moment of excitement when you know that you are out of your comfort zone – and I said ‘yes’….. I have been hugely impressed by the care taken to incorporate women into (the Boat Race Umpires’ Panel)… It’s been going for a number of years, there were three umpires from (each university), then four or five years ago they took five from each, and myself and Judith joined… (They) have supported us, given us feedback, the opportunity to watch, learn and shadow – and that’s been a really important part of this journey. 

Judith Packer in flag-waving action at the 2019 Oxford – Cambridge Veterans’ Boat Race.

Judith Packer will also make history when she oversees the 75th Women’s Boat Race as she will be the first non-Rowing Blue to umpire an Oxford – Cambridge Tideway Boat Race. She is Dark Blue however, Judith attend Oxford University, studying engineering and rowing for St Peter’s College. She qualified as a FISA Umpire in 2009, one of only around 20 Britons who hold the exclusive qualification.

The Women’s Pair at the Presidents’ Challenge: Judith Packer (left) and Sarah Winckless (right).
The 2018 Boat Race Umpire, John Garrett, with the 10 simple rules by which Sarah and Judith will run their races (double click to enlarge and read).

The 75th Women’s Boat Race and The 166th Boat Race and will take place on Sunday, 29 March 2020.

One comment

  1. Loving this article. Particularly the bit about the 2012 Olympics being a year or two ago – my thoughts exactly!

    Am very excited since this will be my first time watching the Boat Races live – together with my German wife as VIP guests of FULHAM REACH BOAT CLUB.
    A special shout-out to them for stepping into the breach after things went awry for me at the recent British Rowing “Love Rowing” charity auction…

    Congratulations to all athletes nominated to the various Oxford and Cambridge squads. Hope all stay healthy over the winter!

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