The Racing Season

  • Squads

    In September every year returning Blues and other student aspirants assemble at the respective clubs' training bases in Oxford & Cambridge.

    The initial squads will be a combination of undergraduates, post graduates, returning Blues and members of the previous year's reserve crew, plus a smattering of experienced rowers from overseas mixed with those who have only recently graduated from the junior ranks.

    Very quickly the squads will be whittled down by the coaching teams, using a series of land based and water based testing to chose those who can potentially win The Boat Races.

    Early training on rowing ergometer's for the OUBC squad
  • OUBC Head Coach Sean Bowden
    OUBC Head Coach Sean Bowden

    Oxford University Boat Club have been coached by Sean Bowden since 1998, prior to his long spell at Oxford he coached Cambridge from 1992-94.

    Sean learned to row at Thames Rowing Club in Putney while studying Sports Science at St. Mary's College in Strawberry Hill.

    He has an enviable record as a Boat Race coach having won 2 of his 3 races with Cambridge and 11 in his 18 years with Oxford.

    Sean Bowden
  • CUBC Head Coach Steve Trapmore
    CUBC Head Coach Steve Trapmore

    Steve Trapmore has been Head Coach at Cambridge since September 2010, his first race in charge being 2011.

    Steve had a sparkling career as an oarsman winning multiple World Championship medals and Gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, as a member of the GB Men's VIII. He went on to coach at Imperial College, London.

    In Steve's first race as coach in 2011 his Cambridge crew lost, however they won the highly controversial 2012 race the following year and ended a three-year losing streak by winning in 2016.

    Steve Trapmore
  • OUWBC Chief Coach Ali Williams
    OUWBC Chief Coach Ali Williams

    Ali, who hails from Australia, became Chief Coach of OUWBC in 2016 following her second season with the Club. Previously she had been Head Coach at the Edmonton Rowing Club, the University of Alberta, Canada, and having coached the Canadian Junior National Development Team. 

    Before turning her hand to coaching, Ali enjoyed a successful career as a cox for the University of Sydney and various New South Wales teams. Ali coxed Australian W8+’s at a number of international races and medaled in the Youth Olympics.

    Christine Wilson
  • CUWBC Chief Coach Rob Baker
    CUWBC Chief Coach Rob Baker

    The Cambridge University Women's Boat Club appointed Rob Baker Chief Coach in 2012.  Joining after 4 years with Rowing Ireland, he was previously an assistant coach with the Cambridge University Boat Club, in which he spent a period acting as Head Coach in 2008.

    Rob coached the winning Goldie crews of 2006 and 2007, demonstrating a wealth of experience on the Championship course.

    Rob Baker
  • Training & Testing
    Training & Testing

    Both of the squads are tested rigorously from the moment they start training in September, with many hopeful athletes being cut from the squads along the way.  The squads will train two or three times a day, usually with a morning session in the gym on rowing machines or using weights, followed after a day at college by an afternoon or evening session on the water.

    Modern, professional testing techniquies are used throughout the year, enabling the coaches to monitor a variety of factors which will help them ascertain improvement or otherwise in performance, and tailor their training programmes to each individual.

    It is estimated that for every stroke taken in The Boat Races themselves the crews will have rowed 600 in practice.

    Cambridge winter training at Ely
  • November: The Fours Head
    November: The Fours Head

    The first opportunity the coaches have to assess their squads in racing conditions is at the Head of the River Fours held in early November on the reverse Championship Course (Mortlake to Putney). This race is open to all rowing clubs, for four oared boats and quadruple sculls. 

    Each of the Oxford and Cambridge clubs usually enter 4 or 5 crews in a mixture of coxed and coxless boats. While difficult to make a judgement about Boat Race prospects from the results, the University with the best placed crews will gain a small psychological advantage. 

  • December: Trial VIII's
    December: Trial VIII's

    In mid-December each squad is split to compete in the "Trial VIII's", a race between two evenly matched crews of 'probables' & 'possibles' from the same university over the Championship Course. By tradition the two crews have names, in recent years these have included Cloak & Dagger, Stubborn & Persistent, Bangers & Mash and Hurricane & Spitfire. 

    Conditions at this time of year are often very difficult, with strong winds and rough water. In the 2009 Boat Race Trial VIIIs the Oxford Pinky crew (racing against Perky) had to abandon the race after becoming waterlogged.

    The coaches use this event to see who copes best with the conditions and as a chance to blood the less experienced members of the squad. The resulting information is used to help them select their Boat Race crews and coxes.

    Oxford's Women in a 2014 Trial Eights tussle
  • January: Training Camps
    January: Training Camps

    In the new year, prior to the start of the new academic term, the Clubs will go abroad on training camps. These are an opportunity for a period of intense training away from the demands of academia. It gives the coaches a chance to put the athletes under pressure and to try new combinations.

    In recent years both Oxford and Cambridge clubs have moved to Europe for their training camps. Both Cambridge clubs go to Banyoles in Spain, whilst OUBC travelled to Le Temple Sur Lot in France and OUWBC to Sabaudia in Italy.

    Cambridge boating at their winter training camp, Banyoles, Spain, January 2011
  • Academic Commitments
    Academic Commitments

    Contrary to sometimes-quoted belief, neither university allows trialling rowers to forsake the academic commitments of their course. This makes training especially tough for those with a heavy lecture schedule and spare time is always at a premium. This applies particularly for those rowers whose courses include a lot of laboratory sessions such as research scientists or undergraduate engineers. 

    Each University has also established a tradition of attracting some of the leading oarsmen from around the globe who wish to pursue a world-class education at two such globally-renowned higher education institutions. In this way the composition of the crews reflects the increasing international make-up of the undergraduate and graduate student populations at Oxford and Cambridge.

    Oxford's dreaming spires
  • Weigh-In & Crew Announcement
    Weigh-In & Crew Announcement

    Three to four weeks prior to the race the crews will be announced to the press and public. By now the head coaches will hope to know which members of their squads constitute their best crew.

    There have been occasions when changes have been made to one crew or the other, generally because of illness or injury, though very occasionally for tactical reasons.

    In recent years the crew announcement has been accompanied by the official weigh-in. This is where the crews weights and heights are recorded for posterity and gives the press plenty of ammunition for speculating on who will be faster.

    The 2013 5-men, Paul Bennett and George Nash, weigh in at the Crew Announcement - both became World Champions in 2014 and Olympic Champions in 2016
  • February & March: Fixtures with other crews
    February & March: Fixtures with other crews

    In the month leading up to The Boat Races each of the Blue Boats will hold private matches against some of the best academic and club crews from the UK, Europe and the USA, such as Leander Club, Molesey Boat Club, the German National Under 23 crew and University of Washington.

    These races offer the coaches a final chance to make adjustments to their crew line-ups and to give the crews themselves some racing practice.

    It is rare for these matches to be over the whole Championship Course. Normally the crews will race two or three short pieces against each other, for example from Putney to Hammersmith.

    OUWBC racing Molesey in February 2015
  • Tideway Week
    Tideway Week

    In the week preceding the race the two clubs take up residence in Putney in order to train on the Tideway.

    Oxford are based at Wesminster School Boat Club, Cambridge at Kings College School Boat Club, both on The Embankment at Putney.

    During the week the Blue Boats and the reserves will practice at published times, which you will be able to find on this site.

    This week is the final opportunity for the crews and coxes to get to know the course, practice their starts and their race pace, and for the coaches to make final adjustments.

    It is also during this week that the press starts to write about the Races, the BBC will begin its build-up and bookies will be inundated with bets.

    The 2014 Oxford crew on one of their final outings ahead of the Race