30 December 2020
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch learns a lot about the 2021 Boat Race from three people who should know.
As with anyone who is exceptionally well-informed about, and has a great love for, their subject, the indefatigable Martin Cross’ enthusiasm for rowing is infectious. The fact that he also has an Olympic Gold Medal just adds to his credibility. All this makes him a good interviewer as, when interviewees trust and respect the person asking the questions, they are far more likely to give considered and open answers.
As part of his “Crossy’s Corner” series of online interviews with members of the rowing community, on 23 December, Martin broadcast a ‘Boat Race Special’ and talked to Seb Pearce (Chair of OUBC and board member of the Boat Race Company Ltd) and Siobhan Cassidy (CUBC representative on the board of the Boat Race Company Ltd).
Starting with the question, ‘Why Ely?’, Seb said that many places that had been considered for the race, including the Tyne, the Trent and even the Dart – as well as Dorney and Caversham. In the end, Ely was the only good length natural course that could be shut off to the public. Nearby roads will be closed on race day.
In response to a question from Martin, Seb said that the proposal to move the race to Cambridge’s base at Ely did not require a ‘hard sell’ to Oxford, in fact OUBC had been considering such a move for the 2020 Race as early as March. Siobhan later reminded us that Oxford’s Sean Bowden coached at Cambridge for three years (1992 – 1994) and so knows Ely well.
Interestingly, Siobhan and Seb say that the ten rules by which the Boat Race is traditionally run will remain unchanged – save for those requiring the crews to go through the centre arches of Hammersmith and Barnes Bridges. Thus, if a cox in front wants to risk taking the other crew’s water and wash them down, they can.
On the question of what it is like side-by-side racing at Ely, it was noted that the river is wider than the boomed Henley course but with reed beds and a slight bend – which may favour the railway side a little. Also, the stream is slight, so fighting for the deepest water may not be the highest priority. Despite this, Seb said that Oxford’s trial race was ‘a fourteen-minute clashathon’ and held that ‘the umpires will have something to do’. Siobhan felt that the high banks on either side make the river feel narrower than it actually is. At present, there are 250 metre distance posts in place but some more distinctive markers may be added for Boat Race Day.
Both interviewees talked of lots of new high-tech ideas for a radical and more ‘intimate’ television coverage of the event – possibly including broadcasting from the locker rooms!
When the interview took place on 23 December, it was suspected (correctly as it turns out) that both Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire would go into the strict Covid Tier 4 restrictions on 26 December, meaning any rowing crew would be limited to people from one household. Martin asked if the Boat Race would have to be cancelled if both counties were still in Tier 4 in April. Seb replied, ‘That is something that we are going to be looking at over the next few weeks’. When asked if they were ‘broadly hopeful’ that the 2021 races would take place, both Seb and Siobhan said that they were.
A recording of the full interview is on Twitter and it includes much speculation on the effect on the Boat Race of long-term political, social, and economic changes.