The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Clubs were formed with the single mission to win the annual Boat Race, an event that began out of friendly rivalry and has grown to become an iconic British sporting event, attracting global interest.

The clubs are officially run by the student Presidents, elected on an annual basis.

The Presidents are supported by professional coaches and support staff to deliver crews to race in the annual contest. The intense rivalry between the clubs has grown over nearly 200 years and the annual ‘battle of the blues’ is a contest often between the fastest university crews in the world.

Rowing for Oxford or Cambridge and competing in The Boat Race is a unique experience and requires academic and sporting excellence. The student athletes are passionate about The Boat Race and what the historic sporting event represents, it is the competitive nature of the team that drives athletic performance alongside academic achievements for every member of the four squads.

The clubs welcome students of all abilities from a range of backgrounds into a trialling process that starts in September each season. For those students new to rowing at university, the clubs organise Development Programmes, where those who have learned to row with their college boat club can take the next steps to be considered for the university team.

International Representation

Many members of the Oxford and Cambridge crews have gone on to represent their country at international level.

It is estimated that for every stroke taken in The Boat Race, the crews will have rowed 600 in practice

The 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 Race.

Training and 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 itself the crews will have rowed 600 in practice.

November: The Fours Ahead

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 The Boat Race prospects from the results, the University with the best placed crews will gain a small psychological advantage.

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.