Controversies: Rebels at Oxford 


Controversial Oxford Coach Dan Topolski 

Controversial Oxford Coach Dan Topolski

Mutiny on the Isis 

The most famous of the few controversies attached to the Boat Race are the two rebellions by Oxford athletes in 1959 and 1987.

The 1959 rebellion was short lived. Returning Blues, who had been beaten the previous year, tried to oust President Ronnie Howard and coach 'Jumbo' Edwards, and replace him with a Yale coach. Cambridge announced they would only race the Oxford President's crew, while a meeting of the college boat club captains supported Howard.

Subsequently with the rebels back in the fold Oxford went on to win by six lengths.

The 1987 'mutiny' remains controversial more than 20 years later. Again Oxford had lost the previous year, after a long run of success, and as the race drew closer 5 American athletes in the squad refused to row for coach Dan Topolski or President Donald Macdonald following disputes about selection and training methods.

To the surprise of many, Oxford, with a crew partially composed of oarsmen from the reserve team, went on to win the race.

Reported facts of the 'mutiny' still differ greatly depending on the source. Dan Topolski's book True Blue about the events is said by many to be biased, as is the subsequent film. While many of the key figures, including Macdonald and the Americans have kept silent about the 'mutiny', it is unlikely that all the facts will ever emerge.

Return to Controversies


The Race's history is punctuated by controversial moments. Read more.