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The annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is, without a doubt, part and parcel of British life.

Every year teams from the two imposing, historical universities go
head-to-head to claim the River Thames bragging rights.

The rivalry, however, was born out of a friendship. The race was the
brainchild of two friends, Charles Merivale and Charles Wordsworth, students at Cambridge and Oxford respectively.

It was in 1829 that the gauntlet was thrown down, with Cambridge challenging their counterparts. And since then the event has grown from strength to strength, continually capturing the imagination of the British public.

The race held in 2004 was the 150th and attracted a staggering television audience of 8.9 million people. An estimated world-wide audience of 500 million watch the race.

The two teams start training way before the spring row. They take to the
water in September when rowers keen to make the team are put through a rigorous training and selection process that ends in the selection of eight rowers and a cox.

The race takes place on the tidal stretch of the Thames called the Tideway, which runs from Teddington Lock through central London and then out to the open sea. The Championship Course runs between Putney and Mortlake.

The race starts at the University Stone, just upstream from Putney Road Bridge and ends just after the Chiswick Road bridge, where crowds turn out in force to cheer home the rowers. Providing, that is, they finish. Cambridge sank in 1859, then again just a mile from the finish in 1978, while Oxford went under in both 1925 and 1951.

Of the 12 British oarsmen who won gold medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, five had rowed in the Boat Race, while Matthew Pinsent, 1993 Oxford President, and Jonathan Searle, 1990 Oxford President, won gold medals at the 1992 Olympic Games.

Josh West, was the tallest man in Boat Race history, standing a whopping 6ft 9 inches. The closest race to date happened in 2003, when Oxford won by just 12 inches.

Over the years, aside from those that would become Olympians, there have been a few celebrity faces, including photographer Lord Snowdon, who rowed for Cambridge in 1950, Lord Colin Moynihan, doing his bit for Oxford in 1977 and the comedian Hugh Laurie, who stepped out of the footlights briefly to row for Cambridge in 1980.


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