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The Boat Race 2003

The 149th Boat Race took place on 6 April 2003. Held annually, the Boat Race is a side-by-side rowing race between crews from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge along a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) tidal stretch of the River Thames in south-west London. The lead changed twice during the race, which Oxford won by one foot (30 cm), the smallest margin of victory in the history of the event. The close race has been described as "epic", while multiple Olympic gold-medallist Steve Redgrave suggested that the race was the "greatest we will see in our lifetimes".

149th Boat Race
Boat Race after Barnes Bridge 2003 - avoiding blades clash.jpg
Blades from both boats are close to clashing. Left to right: Coventry (Cantab.), B. Smith (Cantab.), Nethercott (Oxon.), M. Smith (Oxon.)
Date6 April 2003 (2003-04-06)
Margin of victory1 foot
Winning time18 minutes 6 seconds
Overall record
UmpireBoris Rankov
Other races
Reserve winnerGoldie
Women's winnerOxford

Umpired by the Boat Race veteran Boris Rankov, the 2003 race was the first to be scheduled on a Sunday. As a result of a collision between the Cambridge boat and a launch, a member of the Cambridge crew was replaced just two days before the race. This was the first Boat Race to feature two sets of brothers on opposing sides. In the reserve race Goldie beat Isis and Oxford won the Women's race.


Boris Rankov (pictured in 2015) was the race umpire.

The Boat Race is a side-by-side rowing competition between the University of Oxford (sometimes referred to as the "Dark Blues")[1] and the University of Cambridge (sometimes referred to as the "Light Blues").[1] First held in 1829, the race takes place on the 4.2-mile (6.8 km) Championship Course, between Putney and Mortlake on the River Thames in south-west London.[2] The rivalry is a major point of honour between the two universities; it is followed throughout the United Kingdom and broadcast worldwide.[3][4] Oxford went into the 2003 race as reigning champions, having won the previous year's race by three-quarters of a length,[5] but Cambridge led overall with 77 victories to Oxford's 70 (excluding the "dead heat to Oxford by five feet" of 1877).[6][7] The race was sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management for the fourth consecutive year,[1] and was the first to be scheduled on a Sunday, in order to avoid a clash with the live television broadcast of the Grand National.[7][8] Although the 1984 race was held on a Sunday, it had been postponed from the Saturday following a collision between the Cambridge boat and a barge.[9]

The first Women's Boat Race took place in 1927, but did not become an annual fixture until the 1960s. Up until 2014, the contest was conducted as part of the Henley Boat Races, but as of the 2015 race, it is held on the River Thames, on the same day as the men's main and reserve races.[10] The reserve race, contested between Oxford's Isis boat and Cambridge's Goldie boat, has been held since 1965. It usually takes place on the Tideway, prior to the main Boat Race.[5]

The umpire for the race was former Oxford rower Boris Rankov, who had represented the Dark Blues a record six times between 1978 and 1983.[11] Cambridge were coached by Robin Williams (for the ninth time[12]) while Oxford's coach was Sean Bowden,[13] assisted by coxing adviser Dan Topolski.[14]


Wayne Pommen, the first-choice Cambridge bow, was injured two days before the race, fracturing his wrist following a full-speed collision with the harbourmaster's launch during a practice start.[15] Matthias Kleinz was hit on the head but did not require medical attention.[16] Cambridge number seven James Livingston said: "For a couple of seconds I thought I was going to die. We were going flat out and all of a sudden I heard Jim's voice. I've never heard so much fear in anybody's voice before."[17] Pommen was circumspect: "A few of us were feeling quite lucky last night ... at the same time, it was very frustrating and disappointing ... but there was no point sulking in the corner."[18] Three oars were destroyed and two riggers bent; the boat was sent to Weybridge to be repaired.[19] Pommen was replaced by Ben Smith, brother of the Oxford stroke Matthew.[20] Not since the 1979 race had such a late change in the line-up of a crew been made.[21] Along with James and David Livingston, this was the first time in the history of the Boat Race that two pairs of brothers would be racing against one another.[22]

The official weigh-in took place on 1 April at the London Eye.[23] The Cambridge crew had an advantage of 7 kilograms (15 lb) per member,[24] representing the largest disparity between the crews since the 1990 event and the lightest Dark Blue crew since the 1975 race.[25] Oxford were considered "underdogs" for the race.[16][26] The Cambridge crew had an average age of 23, while Oxford's crew averaged 21. The Oxford crew featured seven Britons, an Australian and a Canadian, while the Cambridge crew consisted of four Britons, two Americans, two Germans and an Australian.[27][28] Cambridge's Tim Wooge, the 30-year-old stroke rowing in his third Boat Race,[12] was the first German president of Cambridge University Boat Club,[13] and the heaviest man in the race.[16] His Dark Blue counterpart Matthew Smith was rowing in his fourth Boat Race.[13] Robin Bourne-Taylor, Basil Dixon and Matt Smith had rowed for Oxford in the 2002 race, while, in James Livingston, Cambridge saw just one Blue return from the previous year's event.[29]

Seat Oxford
Name Nationality Age Height Weight College Name Nationality Age Height Weight College
Bow John Adams British 20 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) 83 kg (13.1 st) University Ben Smith  British 19 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 85 kg (13.4 st) Trinity Hall
2 Basil Dixon British 21 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 93 kg (14.6 st) Pembroke Kristopher Coventry Australian 25 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 89 kg (14.0 st) Queens'
3 Samuel McLennan Australian 23 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 90 kg (14 st) Corpus Christi Hugo Mallinson American 23 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 96 kg (15.1 st) St Catharine's
4 David Livingston British 19 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 92 kg (14.5 st) Christ Church Matthias Kleinz German 27 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 83 kg (13.1 st) Gonville and Caius
5 Robin Bourne-Taylor British 21 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 87 kg (13.7 st) Christ Church Alexander McGarel-Groves British 22 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 97 kg (15.3 st) Peterhouse
6 Scott Frandsen Canadian 22 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) 82 kg (12.9 st) St Edmund Hall Tom James British 19 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 86 kg (13.5 st) Trinity Hall
7 Henry Morris British 20 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) 82 kg (12.9 st) Magdalen James Livingston British 22 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 95 kg (15.0 st) St Catharine's
Stroke Matthew Smith (P) British 20 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) 81 kg (12.8 st) St Anne's Tim Wooge (P) German 30 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 100 kg (16 st) Peterhouse
Cox Acer Nethercott British 25 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) 55 kg (8.7 st) University James Omartian American 23 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) 55 kg (8.7 st) St Catharine's
  – Ben Smith replaced Wayne Pommen two days before the race
(P) – boat club president

Race descriptionsEdit

Main raceEdit

The Oxford boat (rowers in dark blue) holds a narrow lead as the crews approach Barnes Bridge

Cambridge won the coin toss and the Light Blue boat club president, Tim Wooge, was clear: "Cambridge choose Surrey".[30] Cambridge elected to start from the southern bank (the "Surrey side") of the Thames, handing the northern side of the river (the "Middlesex side") to Oxford.[31] At race time, conditions were overcast and breezy.[32] Oxford took an early lead with a slightly higher stroke rate than Cambridge as both coxes were warned by the umpire to avoid a clash. By the Mile Post, the Dark Blues were half-a-second ahead.[33] Five minutes into the race, Oxford, with a third of a length lead, were warned again by the umpire and moved away from the racing line, and following a series of oar clashes, allowed Cambridge to take the lead, shooting Hammersmith Bridge a second ahead.[33] Oxford continued to stay in touch with Cambridge along the long middle bend of the course, towards the Chiswick Steps, and retook the lead on the approach to Barnes Bridge as the course curved back in their favour.[33] With a three-quarter length lead at Barnes, Oxford began to weaken and Cambridge recovered to a third of a length. With every stroke, the Cambridge boat gained on Oxford, outrating them in a "sprint finish",[33] but the Dark Blues passed the finishing post 1 foot (30 cm) ahead, the narrowest winning margin in the history of the race.[32][34]

Oxford finished with a time of 18 minutes 6 seconds.[31] Rankov did not initially announce the result, instead he "spread his arms wide and shrugged his shoulders".[35] The result was confirmed to Rankov by finishing judge Ben Kent, with the winning margin being approximately 0.05 seconds,[36] and announced to the crews by Rankov under Chiswick Bridge: "One foot to Oxford".[37] James Livingston wrote of himself at the finish: "eyes widen and bulge in horror. Our desolation is total."[38]

It was the first time a crew had won the race with a deficit of more than one stone (6.4 kg) per man.[39] It was Oxford's third victory in the previous four years and brought the overall result to 77–71 in Cambridge's favour.[5] At the finish, following tradition, the Oxford crew threw their cox, Acer Nethercott, into the water in celebration.[40]

Women and reserves racesEdit

In the reserve race, Cambridge's Goldie beat Oxford's Isis by nine lengths in a time of 18 minutes 4 seconds, two seconds quicker than the Blue boat,[31] recording their fourth consecutive victory and their sixth in seven years.[32] Earlier, Oxford won the 58th women's race in a time of 6 minutes 35 seconds, three-and-a-half lengths ahead of their Light Blue opponents. It was their second consecutive win and took the overall result to 38–20 in Cambridge's favour.[5][41]


It was an astonishing finish to any race, doubly astonishing in a race of such extreme distance; trebly astonishing in a race traditionally regarded as a procession.

Simon Barnes, writing in The Times[42]

The Oxford University Boat Club president and stroke Matthew Smith said "It feels fantastic and I think it will take a while to top this feeling".[43] He went on to say: "We have got an awesome bunch of guys in this squad ... but I have such respect for Cambridge ... with a lighter crew we've turned round the biggest weight deficit in history."[35][44] Nethercott remarked "I really thought we had lost. In the space of a few seconds I went from the lowest point in my life to absolute, unbridled ecstasy."[45] The Cambridge oarsman James Livingston said "It was the worst margin to lose by. I just wish I could stop losing these epic races" while the Cambridge coach Williams described the defeat as a "blow to the heart".[43] Wooge was disappointed: "I pull my hat off to Oxford, that was an amazing race."[36] Rankov later revealed "It’s the hardest I’ve ever had to work in an umpiring situation."[46]

The five-time Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave, who presented the trophy to the victorious president, Matthew Smith,[47] commented on the race: "Remember that race and cling on to the memory, because it will be the greatest we will see in any of our lifetimes."[48] An estimated 400 million people worldwide watched the event on television,[48] with over 5 million viewers watching on BBC One in the United Kingdom.[49] The race is retold in the book Blood Over Water, authored by opposing brothers James and David Livingston.[50]

Martin Cross, writing in The Guardian, said the race provided "a thrilling finish and renewed interest from the public",[17] Christopher Dodd in The Independent called the race "stupendous, a titanic struggle of will",[44] while Rachel Quarrell of The Daily Telegraph declared Oxford's victory as "epic" and suggested that "there will never be a better Boat Race."[36] Simon Barnes of The Times described the finish: "At the finishing line, the bobble of the Oxford bow was inches in front, a second later, it was inches behind. If the line had come with the completion rather than the beginning of the final Cambridge stroke, the result would have gone the other way."[42] Author and journalist Christopher Dodd, writing in Rowing News summarised the race as "incredible" and a "titanic struggle of wills".[33]



  1. ^ a b c "Dark Blues aim to punch above their weight". The Observer. 6 April 2003. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  2. ^ Smith, Oliver (25 March 2014). "University Boat Race 2014: spectators' guide". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  3. ^ "Former Winnipegger in winning Oxford–Cambridge Boat Race crew". CBC News. 6 April 2014. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  4. ^ "TV and radio". The Boat Race Company Limited. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d "Boat Race – Results". The Boat Race Company Limited. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  6. ^ "Oxford clinch Boat Race". BBC Sport. 30 March 2002. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Classic moments – the 1877 dead heat". The Boat Race Company Limited. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  8. ^ Dodd, Christopher (4 June 2003). "Rowing: Boat Race enters new waters with Sunday evening slot". The Independent. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  9. ^ Dodd, Christoper (5 April 2003). "Crash puts Cambridge crew plans in doubt". The Independent. p. 12.
  10. ^ "A brief history of the Women's Boat Race". The Boat Race Company Limited. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  11. ^ Davies, Gareth A. (27 March 2009). "60 Second Interview: Boris Rankov, Boat Race Umpire". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  12. ^ a b "The recharging of the Light Blue brigade". The Independent. 12 January 2003. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  13. ^ a b c Dodd, Christopher (11 March 2003). "Rowing: Boat race crews rely on league of nations". The Independent. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  14. ^ Treharne Jones, Robert (3 April 2003). "Oxford forced to fight rough water". The Times.
  15. ^ "Cambridge bowman breaks wrist". BBC Sport. 5 April 2003. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  16. ^ a b c Goodbody, John (5 April 2003). "Pommen injured as collision leaves Cambridge high and dry". The Times.
  17. ^ a b Cross, Martin. "Light Blue crew feared for his life". The Guardian. p. 28.
  18. ^ Longmore, Andrew (6 April 2003). "Oarsman is thrown in at deep end". The Sunday Times.
  19. ^ Dodd, Christopher (5 April 2003). "Crash puts Cambridge crew plans in doubt". The Independent. p. 12.
  20. ^ "Cambridge lose bowman". The Daily Telegraph. 5 April 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  21. ^ Quarrell, Rachel (5 April 2003). "Cambridge face nervous wait after collision". The Daily Telegraph. p. 14.
  22. ^ Townsend, Nick (6 April 2003). "James gives Light Blues a fresh look as brotherhood rules waves". The Independent. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  23. ^ Rosewell, Mike (1 April 2003). "Umpire tells coxes to steer clear of clashes". The Times.
  24. ^ "Crews weigh in". BBC Sport. 1 April 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  25. ^ Quarrell, Rachel (2 April 2003). "History weighs on Oxford". The Daily Telegraph. p. 8.
  26. ^ Simon, Nik (31 March 2013). "Rowing: Acer in the pack inspires Oxford's Boat Race crew". The Independent. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  27. ^ "Meet the Oxford University team". BBC Sport. 31 March 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  28. ^ "Meet the Cambridge University team". BBC Sport. 31 March 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  29. ^ Goodbody, John (2 April 2003). "Weight of history in favour of Light Blues". The Times.
  30. ^ Livingston & Livingston, p. 236
  31. ^ a b c "Oxford win Boat Race". BBC Sport. 12 April 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  32. ^ a b c "The Boat Race: as it happened". BBC Sport. 6 April 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  33. ^ a b c d e Dodd, Christopher (4 May 2003). "Features – 2003 Boat Race". Rowing News. pp. 7, 26–27. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  34. ^ "Classic moments – The closest race". The Boat Race Company Limited. Archived from the original on 8 October 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  35. ^ a b Goodbody, John (7 April 2003). "Oxford survive the closest of calls". The Times.
  36. ^ a b c Quarrell, Rachel (7 April 2003). "Oxford's epic victory closer than 'dead heat'". The Daily Telegraph. p. 12.
  37. ^ Cross, Martin (7 April 2003). "Spirit of 1963 sees dark blues through". The Guardian. p. 18.
  38. ^ Livingston & Livingston, p. 255
  39. ^ Weaver, Paul (7 April 2003). "Oxford overcome weight of history – by 12 inches". The Guardian. p. 18.
  40. ^ "The victorious Oxford Cox Acer Nethercott is thrown in the Thames in traditional manner..." Getty Images. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  41. ^ Quarrell, Rachel (1 April 2003). "Oxford show way". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  42. ^ a b Barnes, Simon (7 April 2003). "Oxford triumph by the flick of a blade". The Times.
  43. ^ a b "Mixed emotions for brothers". BBC Sport. 6 April 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  44. ^ a b Dodd, Christopher (7 April 2003). "Oxford win by one foot after titanic struggle". The Independent. p. 28.
  45. ^ Martin, Nicole (7 April 2003). "Four brothers, two boats, one great race". The Daily Telegraph.
  46. ^ Phillips, Maggie (April 2009). "Total Concentration" (pdf). Rowing and Regatta. British Rowing. p. 6.
  47. ^ Livingston, Livingston, p. 263
  48. ^ a b Weaver, Paul (7 April 2003). "Oxford overcome weight of history – by 12 inches". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  49. ^ "Close finish puts smile on the old boat race". Broadcast. 30 April 2003. Retrieved 21 April 2014. (subscription required)
  50. ^ "Blood Over Water". British Rowing. 1 April 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2014.


External linksEdit