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10 things you didn't know about the Boat Race

1. Famous faces

The most famous people to have participated in the Boat Race include:

  • Matthew Pinsent CBE – Oxford. Won in 1990 and 1991 and was the losing President in 1993.
  • The Winklevoss twins – Oxford 2010 losing team. They are better known as the disputed joint founders of Facebook, who received a multi-million dollar settlement from Mark Zuckerburg after they sued him for stealing their idea and creating Facebook.
  • Lord Snowdon – coxed for Cambridge in 1950.
  • Hugh Laurie – Cambridge 1980, his team narrowly lost, controversially with a clash of oars. Interestingly, his father also rowed for Cambridge.
  • Dan Snow – Oxford 1999-2001.

2. Famous commentary

The most famous commentary on The Boat Race was by the BBC radio commentator John Snagge in 1949, who reported: I can't see who's in the lead but it's either Oxford or Cambridge.

3. Rhyming slang

The Boat Race is used in Cockney rhyming slang for face.

4. Controversy

One of the most controversial races was in 1877; 41 years after the race began. The judge, Honest John Phelps was allegedly asleep under a bush when the race ended, announcing that the result was a dead-heat to Oxford by 5 feet. It seems more probable that the judge's view was obscured by the boats around the finish line but it is still legendary in Oxford.

5. That sinking feeling

In 1978, Cambridge completely sank after strong winds filled their boat with water just before the finishing line, leaving Oxford to pass the stranded team and win the race. This event won a place on Channel 4's list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.

6. The coin toss

The rowing clubs' presidents toss an 1829 gold sovereign coin (to commemorate the origins of the race) for the right to choose which side of the river they row on.

7. Training

Each member of the crew trains for approximately two hours for every stroke in the race.

8. Markers

The official start and finish lines are marked by stones on the south bank of the Thames. These have 'UBR' on them for University Boat Race.

9. Facts

  • Since 1856, the fastest winning time is 16 minutes and 19 seconds by Cambridge in 1998. The slowest winning time was nearly 10 minutes longer, at 26 minutes and 5 seconds by Cambridge in 1860.
  • The tallest rowers were Josh West (1999-2002 Cambridge) and Paul Bennett (2013 Oxford) at 6ft 9.5in. In 1999 the Cambridge crew was the tallest crew on record with an average height of 6ft 7in.
  • The heaviest rower was Thorsten Engelmann weighing in at 17st 6lbs in the 2007 Cambridge team. The lightest rower was Alfred Higgins at 9st 6.5lb for Oxford in 1882. The heaviest crew on record was Oxford in 2009 with an average weight of 15st 9lbs.

10. The beginning

The Boat Race started in 1829, when two friends (both from Harrow School) decided to challenge each other to a boat race on Henley-on-Thames - one of whom went to Oxford University, the other to Cambridge University. The race has been held annually since 1856 - except during World War I and World War II. The loser of the race traditionally challenges the winner to a rematch every year.