The Boat Races | University of Oxford
Oxford's 2015 winning teams
Oxford's 2015 winning teams
Credit: Professional Sports

The Boat Races

In 2016, Oxford University won the Women's boat race and Cambridge won the Men's.

The first boat race was the result of a challenge issued to Oxford by Cambridge in 1829. It was rowed on the Thames at Henley. Oxford wore dark blue jerseys, later to become the Oxford blue, and Cambridge donned pink sashes. Oxford were the first winners. The second race was staged in 1836 when Cambridge adopted their own light blue, and was rowed on a five and three-quarter mile stretch of the Thames between Westminster and Putney. The first women's boat race took place in 1929 and became a permanent fixture in the 1960s. In 2015, the men's and women's races took place on the same course and the same day, for the first time.

Today the 4.5 mile course, which was first used in 1845, stretches from Putney to Mortlake. The race is held in March or early April, after the captain of the previous year's losing team issues a formal challenge. The average time taken to complete the course is 20 minutes, but the Cambridge men's crew holds the record for the fastest time of 16 minutes and 19 seconds, achieved in 1998.

Cambridge sank in 1859 and 1978, Oxford in 1925 and 1951, and both boats went down in 1912 when the race was started in a virtual gale. The most recent sinking occurred in 1984, when a Cambridge boat sank after ramming a barge before they were even under starter's orders. The remains of the boat now have pride of place in a Cambridge public house, and have been signed by all crew members. Oxford made history in 1981 with the selection of the first female cox in the men's race, Sue Brown. She coxed the men's crew to victory in both 1981 and 1982.

In 2012 the men's race was stopped while Oxford were leading due to a swimmer in the river. After the re-start the crew’s blades clashed, destroying the spoon on the end of Oxford’s Hanno Weinhausen’s blade. Down to seven men, the race was effectively over as Cambridge pulled away to win by 4 and a quarter lengths. After crossing the line, Oxford’s Alex Woods collapsed and was taken to Charing Cross Hospital. He made a full recovery.

The current score for the men's race stands at 82 to Cambridge, 79 to Oxford, with one controversial dead heat in 1877. The women's race stands at 41 to Cambridge, 30 to Oxford. The boat races are the most famous of the Varsity Matches and have a huge audience on television, radio and online. In 2015, at least 4.8 million people in the UK alone tuned into the women's race and 6.2 million the men's, and on average more than 100 million watch the races worldwide each year. Around a quarter of a million people are estimated to watch from the riverbank on the day.

The Race becomes the Races

On the 11th April 2015, the BNY Mellon Boat Race was joined on the Tideway for the first time by the Newton Women’s Boat Race. Oxford athletes reflect on the event in this series of videos.

Watch all the films in this 2015 series here.

Oxford prepares for the boat race

In 2012 a series of short films was made over a period of six months, from when the young hopefuls trial for a place on the boat race team, through to the great day itself.

Watch all the films in this 2012 series here.