Monday, April 9, 2007

Blades and imbeciles - ebren

Sweat, tears, skill, world-champions, underdogs, favourites, tactics, power, finesse, balance, determination, mental strength, and blades.

The annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge has all of this, but it also has one of the oddest crowds you will ever see at a sporting event.

There has always been a split between jocks and geeks. The brainy glasses-wearing, dungeons & dragon playing, computer loving chaps with BO and no dress sense don't like sport. The muscle-headed, hard-drinking, womanising, boorish, gym-freaks don't have a lot between the ears.

And unless movies and television have lied to me, this has always been the case.

Always will be.

With one exception.

Once a year - at the traditional start of London's summer social season - as green shoots and daffodils raise their heads from their winter slumber the two geekiest institutions in the UK clash.

Boffins brush off their beer goggles, and sportsmen and women admit to having knowledge of Kant, although not necessarily though direct experience of him.

250,000 of them, some in blazers some in shorts and flip-flops.

Properly posh people sip Pimms next to pissed Aussies, Kiwis, and Saffas (the race does start in Putney after all) drinking cans of carling from inflatable bins full of ice (bin comes free with 10 cans, as does a pair of flip-flops).

They then swap drinks.

The crowd is polite and drunk at the same time, thousands crush forward, all the while apologising in upper-class accents as they knock into each other.

There are more degrees along that stretch of river than in 100 boiling kettles, but not one of the thousands of people around me has brought a radio so they listen for the result after the boats pull round the corner - 500 yards into the four-mile race.

But it doesn't really matter.

There were three-and-a-half people that I could see who seemed to care about the result, because it's not about that. It's about the sun on the river, it's about the friends you haven't seen for years, and the ones you haven't met yet.

It's the true democracy of sport. Anyone can come, drink, watch and join in. Almost everyone in the UK, and probably a large number of the 100 million people worldwide that watch this race, have a reason to support Oxford or Cambridge. An allegiance that generally lasts for life.

This is an event older than any football competition, considerably older than the Ashes, and was the subject of one of the world's first films in 1895.

But it is also modern, six nationalities, men and women competing in carbon-fibre boats, computer designed blades and with telemetry analysed.

There is also something gloriously post modern about a competition on which nothing rests except pride, but that dominates the lives of 30 world-class athletes and coaches for over a year and is seen worldwide my millions.

And despite all this it remains resolutely English.

In what other country would the competitors - as your correspondent can confirm after an ad-hoc trip through the Cambridge dressing room to the toilets this year - would the contestants still turn up in wellies to keep their feet dry before getting soaked?


Zephirine said...

Love this, Ebren. Personally, I always feel the rest of my year will go well if Oxford wins. It's just one of those things.

guitougoal said...

Great piece. Do you mean the rower from Tahiti is banned from this race? In tis case I am all for Oxford.

offside said...

You call that rowing? They're not even facing forward. They can't see where they're heading and it's over in 20 minutes. Sounds like a joke to me.

andrewm said...

Sorry Ebren, I know we're all about diversity on Pseuds, but two articles on the bloody Boat Race?


(Not the band)

If this was GU there would be uproar, and rightly so.

Ebren said...

Hey Andy.

There has been an awful lot of cricket on here recently (and more to come, and rightly so as it's the World Cup).

Mimi and I both wrote something on the boat race, and we thought it would be good to give two perspectives on the boat race - which regardless of someone's opinion of it is definitely a major event.

They are very different angles so we put it on as a point counterpoint thing.

And if offside is allowed to write about rowing so are we. I've at least won a few races with an oar in my hand ;o)

andrewm said...

Wow, this is just like the golden days of haranguing seani :o)

I was only kidding Mr. Editor, it's just a personal thing between me and the f'ing Boat Race (which is a person).

mimi said...

And I shall probably be disowned by my family for suggesting that the Boat Race is not the most exciting thing on the planet. Still, I thought it worth giving some of you something to rant about, andrewm!

andrewm said...

mimi - much appreciated, I enjoy a good rant (far more than I enjoy the f'ing Boat Race).

MotM said...

I don't mind the Boat Race for all the admirable reasons Ebren explains so well - but I do resent all that space on television given over to it, whilst plenty of other sports get nothing unless it's an Olympic year.

bluedaddy said...

Light blues. Dark blues. They didnt think that one through did they? Which is which and what's an easy way to remember? Who won?

Ebren said...

Light blues, Cambridge, Winners. The light side
Dark blues, Oxford, Losers. The dark side.

At least this year.

greengrass said...

The only boat race I am interested in is the one on Mrs. Greengrass.

If the Boat Race was what it once was
- a bunch of Hooray Henrys making pricks of themselves for all to see - I would lap it up.

Sadly, it is now a bunch of pros who actually know one end of an oar from another: all the traditional charm has been sold down the river.


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