Classic Moments: The Closest Race 


Oxford hold on to their narrow lead approaching the finish in 2003 

Oxford hold on to their narrow lead approaching the finish in 2003

2003; Oxford hold on for the narrowest of victories 

2003 was a momentous race for a number of reasons. It was the first time that the Race had been scheduled for a Sunday, though on one previous occasion (1984) a postponed race was held on a Sunday. It was also only the second time ever and the first for 103 years that the crew announcement included brothers (the Livingston's, David for Oxford and James for Cambridge) rowing against each other.

Then two days before the Race, during a practice start, the Cambridge Blue Boat was in collision, at speed, with the Harbour Master’s launch, breaking the wrist of Canadian bow Wayne Pommen.

Ben Smith, brother of the Oxford President and stroke Matt Smith, moved up from stroking Goldie to rowing bow for Cambridge - thus for the first time ever bringing two pairs of brothers in opposing varsity crews. All four were from Hampton School, where they had all rowed and raced alongside each other.

Cambridge had won the toss and chosen Surrey. Oxford, got away at a faster rate and took a few feet advantage off the start, which they converted into a third of a length by the Mile Post.

The lead then changed hands at Hammersmith, Cambridge stretching out to half a length, but Oxford held on around the outside of the Surrey bend, putting in a push past Chiswick Steps to take a narrow lead at Barnes, which they pushed out to 2/3 length.

Past Barnes Bridge Cambridge pushed, sensing the weakening and desperation of the dark blues, hauling Oxford back with every stroke, but as they approached the finish Oxford just held on to win by 1 foot.

This epic race and the inter-family rivalry it engendered is recounted in the book Blood Over Water by James & David Livingston.

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