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The Boat Race 1978

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124th Boat Race
Date 25 March 1978 (1978-03-25)
Winner Oxford
Margin of victory Cambridge sank
Winning time 18 minutes 58 seconds
Overall record
Umpire James Crowden[1]
Other races
Reserve winner Goldie
Women's winner Cambridge

The 124th Boat Race between crews from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge took place on the River Thames on 25 March 1978. Umpired by former Cambridge rower James Crowden, Oxford won in a time of 18 minutes and 58 seconds. The race was complicated by bad weather, and when faced with choppy water, a strong headwind and horizontal, driving rain, the Cambridge boat, which lacked splashboards, took on water and sank. It was the fifth time a boat had sunk during the event.

In the reserve race, Cambridge's Goldie beat Oxford's Isis by one-and-a-quarter lengths. Cambridge won the 33rd Women's Boat Race.


The Boat Race is a side-by-side rowing competition between the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. First held in 1829, the competition is a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) race along the River Thames in southwest London.[2] The rivalry is a major point of honour between the two universities and is followed throughout the United Kingdom and worldwide.[3] Oxford went into the race as reigning champions, having won the 1977 race by seven lengths,[4] with Cambridge leading overall with 68 victories to Oxford's 54 (excluding the "dead heat" of 1877).[5] The 1978 race was sponsored by Ladbrokes, while the BBC had paid between £10,000 and £20,000 to televise the event.[6]

During training for the race, Oxford had sunk, taking on water in the inclement weather, and had decided to fit splashboards to their boat, while Cambridge opted to leave their boat unchanged.[7] Prior to this year's event, there had been four sinkings in the history of the race. Cambridge sank in 1859, Oxford sank in 1925 and 1951, and both crews sank in 1912.[8]

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.[9] 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.[4]


Oxford's crew contained three Old Blues in Moran, Shealy and the former lightweight world champion Andy Michelmore, while Cambridge's boat featured five returning rowers in Bathurst, Clegg, Horton, Ross and Cooke-Yarborough. The race also marked the debut of Boris Rankov, who went on to represent Oxford in five further races.[10] The Cambridge crew was marginally heavier per rower, averaging 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) more than Oxford.[11]

Seat Oxford
University of Cambridge coat of arms.svg
Name College Weight Name College Weight
Bow T. J. Sutton St Catherine's 14 st 2 lb M. D. Bathurst Pembroke 13 st 4 lb
2 R. A. Crockford Corpus Christi 13 st 2 lb S. J. Clegg St Catharine's 13 st 6 lb
3 J. R. Crawford Pembroke 14 st 0 lb W. M. R. Dawkins 1st Trinity 14 st 5 lb
4 N. B. Rankov Corpus Christi 14 st 3 lb C. M. Horton (P) Downing 14 st 1 lb
5 M. M. Moran Keble 14 st 2 lb R. C. Ross Lady Margaret Boat Club 14 st 7 lb
6 A. W. Shealy University 14 st 2 lb A. E. Cooke-Yarborough Gonville and Caius 14 st 8 lb
7 J. W. Wood Pembroke 12 st 10 lb A. N. de M. Jelfs Fitzwilliam 13 st 3 lb
Stroke A. G. Michelmore (P) New College 12 st 3 lb R. N. E. Davies St Catharine's 12 st 2 lb
Cox J. Fail Oriel 7 st 13 lb G. Henderson Downing 8 st 5 lb
(P) – boat club president

Race description

Oxford won the toss and elected to start from the Surrey station.[11] After a false start,[7] the race commenced at 2.45pm in reasonable weather conditions, and Oxford took a one-length lead to Hammersmith Bridge in a record time of 6 minutes 24 seconds. As the crews turned into the Surrey bend, conditions drastically worsened with a strong headwind and "horizontal rain driving into them".[12] Entering choppy water and in an attempt to push past Oxford, Cambridge made their challenge at Barnes Bridge but began to take on water.[7] Within seconds the boat started to sink; the Oxford crew realised the contest was over and rowed carefully to the finish in a time of 18 minutes 58 seconds.[11] It was Oxford's third victory in a row, and their fourth in the past five years.[4]

In the reserve race, Cambridge's Goldie beat Oxford's Isis by one-and-a-quarter lengths,[4] and in the 33rd running of the Women's Boat Race, Cambridge also triumphed.[4]


Cambridge boat club president Mark Horton immediately challenged the Oxford president Andy Michelmore to a re-row; the challenge was declined.[7] Horton recalls "It was hard to take and is still a painful memory. The Boat Race was supposed to be one of the proudest moments of my life".[7] Cambridge's Mark Bathurst was indignant about the preparation of the boat: "we had taken to the water without fitting any [splashboards] – an act of monumental idiocy".[13] Oxford cox Fail told The Guardian "I was surprised when I heard that Cambridge had sunk. If you keep going steadily you forget about water and ride it out."[14]

Cambridge's sinking was featured as the 79th in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.[15]



  • Dodd, Christopher (1983). The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race. Stanley Paul. ISBN 0091513405.


  1. ^ Dodd, p.156
  2. ^ Smith, Oliver (25 March 2014). "University Boat Race 2014: spectators' guide". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  3. ^ "Former Winnipegger in winning Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race crew". CBC News. 6 April 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Boat Race – Results". The Boat Race Company. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  5. ^ "Classic moments – the 1877 dead heat". The Boat Race Company Limited. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  6. ^ Dodd, p. 157
  7. ^ a b c d e Honeyball, Lee (8 April 2001). "Do you remember when... Cambridge sank in the Boat Race?". The Observer. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  8. ^ Dodd p. 149
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ Davies, Gareth A. (27 March 2009). "60 Second Interview: Boris Rankov, Boat Race Umpire". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 June 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d Dodd, p. 347
  12. ^ Dodd, p.155
  13. ^ Bathurst, Mark (28 March 2008). "1978 Boat Race: The day my heart sank". The Daily Telegraph.
  14. ^ Dodd p. 156
  15. ^ Lowe, Edward (28 March 2013). "A Beginner's Guide to the Boat Race". Cherwell. Retrieved 22 April 2014.

External links

  • Official website
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