Tideway week is upon us. In many senses, it is a peculiar period; a suspension in time, the deep breath that tends to precede a moment of great significance.
The flashpoint nature of a Boat Race season, with its assorted fixtures and distinct lack of pre-race contact, fades to become a final one-lane road which all four crews must take together.
The serenity of a hazy morning on the Thames, a typical scene that greets anyone who involves themselves in the next few days, belies a rising sense of anticipation as the zenith of nine months of preparation approaches. Crews take to the water, each stroke meticulously and rigorously analysed by coaches searching for that extra inch. Much of the hard work has been done – weeks of training broken down through testing to select the fastest athletes for each boat. Between them, the 36 Blue Boat athletes and various support staff will have moved to London around a week ago to begin final preparations. Routine defines a rower’s life – it is perhaps the only way to thrive with a schedule as demanding as the student athlete. Having set up base in the capital, frequent trips down to Putney will be used to fine-tune the machine. There are only marginal improvements to be made, but every second spent on the unpredictable championship course is valuable.
The week is comprised largely of multiple outings for each of the four boats, some of which will be watched by various members of the media. The Putney waterfront, quiet and reserved for much of the year, is descended upon by press from across the globe. As a sport, rowing is not often cast into the public eye – it is introverted and often underappreciated by the wider community. This race captures the imagination because it is simple – hard work, grit and intense rivalry are played out across seven gruelling kilometres in the heart of a sporting contest.
There are chances for the media to interact with the athletes. Press conferences will take place in the media centre, located in Thames Rowing Club, on Friday morning and journalists are expected to put questions to the head coach, president and coxswain of each squad. Oxford, boating in the men’s Race with two brothers and two Olympians on-board, are widely considered as favourites for the men’s Race whilst Cambridge women will be looking for their first win in five years.
Beyond all of this though, Tideway Week grants opportunities to all who involve themselves in the Races. For the media, it is a great foundation to craft the stories and speak to the people who will define the next few days. For the organisers, the lull that slowly transitions into one of the country’s foremost sporting events is an important window to ensure that no stone has been left unturned. For the athletes and coaches, it is a chance to train together, think together and live together so that they may better fight together on Sunday.