Next Race 150th Boat Race, March 28th 6pm sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management
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Last updated 2 Nov 2003 - Low Graphics    

How did it start?

The idea for a rowing race between the universities came from two friends - Charles Merival, a student at Cambridge, and his Harrow schoolfriend Charles Wordsworth (nephew of the poet William Wordsworth), who was at Oxford.

On 12 March 1829, Cambridge sent a challenge to Oxford and thus the tradition was born which has continued to the present day, where the loser of the previous year's race challenges the opposition to a re-match.

The first Boat Race took place at Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and contemporary newspapers report crowds of twenty thousand travelled to watch. The race was stopped soon after the start and, following the restart, Oxford were clear winners. The event was such a resounding success that the townspeople later decided to organise a regatta of their own which duly became Henley Royal Regatta. After the first year, the early Boat Races took place at Westminster in London, but by 1845, when Westminster had become too crowded, the Boat Race moved six miles up-stream to the then country village of Putney. In 1856 the race became an annual event (excepting only the war years).

How many people watch the race?

The Boat Race is one of the most popular events in the British sporting calendar and attracts a massive crowd of around 250,000 to the banks of the River Thames between Putney and Mortlake. For the last five years, the BBC Television audience for the Boat Race has averaged over six million, making it a top five live televised annual British sporting event (along with the Grand National, the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon Men's final and the British Grand Prix). In 2003 the TV audience for The Race was 7.7 million. The event also has a huge international following with an estimated global audience of 400 million in around 180 countries.

Which famous faces have rowed in the Boat Race?

Internationally acclaimed photographer Lord Snowdon (Cambridge 1950); former MP and now peer Colin, Lord Moynihan (Oxford 1977), comic actor and playwright Hugh Laurie (Cambridge 1980)

Olympic gold medallists include: three time Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent (Oxford 1990, 1991 and 1993), 1992 Olympic champion Jonny Searle (Oxford 1988-90), Sydney Olympic gold medallists Tim Foster (Oxford 1997), Luka Grubor (Oxford 1997), Kieran West (Cambridge 1999 and 2001), Andrew Lindsay (Oxford 1997-99).