On Sunday April 3rd comes the 167th annual grudge match between the grand and ancient Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, also known as the Boat Race. A peculiar tradition for a peculiar nation, made all the more peculiar in this modern age for being contested exclusively by amateur athletes. As we are the Varsity Hotel Cambridge, you know which side we’ll be cheering for.
A New Era
While we now know the Boat Race as an annual event, this was not initially the case. The very first Boat Race was held in 1829 due to a specific challenge and was initially considered to be a one off event. But over time this evolved into a system by which the losing side must formally challenge the victor to a rematch. A tradition maintained to this day.
Though there were a few sporadic races over the next generation, it was not unit 1856 that the event became formalised. An annual race on a set, 4 mile course on the Thames in London. A long, gruelling and occasionally treacherous course pushing the athletes involved to their absolute limits.
This remained the case for well over a century and a half, with the only breaks being taken for the two World Wars. Which clearly represented “mitigating circumstances”, though even then a few unofficial races did take place. But all that changed a couple of years ago. With the pandemic just starting to get serious two years ago, the 2020 Boat Race was cancelled. And while the 2021 Boat Race went forward, it took place not on the Thames, but on the Ouse.
Return to Form
All of which makes the 167th Boat Race such a big deal. It has been three years since the last time this supposedly annual event occurred in its full glory. That may not sound like much for institutions that have seen out eight centuries. But when you consider that the standard course length for an undergraduate degree at either university is also three years, you can appreciate how much it may mean to the current students.
We may think of “a generation” as being 25 years, but to Oxbridge students it’s more like three years for an almost complete turnover. So this may well be their one and only opportunity to participate in the greatest rivalry in academic history. A rivalry which every student at either institution for centuries past has embraced. And a rivalry which, as Oxbridge students, is theirs to enjoy practically by right.
As for the rest of us, we can always enjoy a good show. Or, better still, embrace the tradition by joining in ourselves. While we at the Varsity Hotel may not have our own rowing team, we do have the facilities available to train for one. In the form of “dry rowing” machines (known as Ergs) found in gyms such as our own Glassworks Gym. They, along with our many other facilities, are free for use for all gym members.