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The Boat Race 1981

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127th Boat Race
Date 4 April 1981
Winner Oxford
Margin of victory 8 lengths
Winning time 18 minutes 11 seconds
Overall record
Umpire Ronnie Howard
Other races
Reserve winner Isis
Women's winner Oxford

The 127th Boat Race took place on 4 April 1981. Held annually, the Boat Race is a side-by-side rowing race between crews from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge along the River Thames. Umpired by former Oxford rower Ronnie Howard, it was won by Oxford who passed the finishing post eight lengths ahead of Cambridge, their largest margin of victory since 1898. The race saw Oxford coxed by Sue Brown, the first female cox in the history of the event.

In the reserve race, Isis beat Goldie by four-and-a-half lengths, and in the Women's Boat Race, Oxford were victorious.


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 miles (6.8 km) Championship Course on the River Thames in southwest London.[2] The rivalry is a major point of honour between the two universities and followed throughout the United Kingdom and broadcast worldwide.[3][4] Oxford went into the race as reigning champions, having beaten Cambridge by a canvas in the previous year's race. However Cambridge held the overall lead, with 68 victories to Oxford's 57.[5] The race was sponsored for fifth time by Ladbrokes.[5][6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Christopher Dodd writing in The Guardian noted Oxford's aggressiveness during the preparations for the race, suggesting that they were "set to humiliate their opponents if they possibly can."[9] Dodd went on to predict that Oxford would win by their greatest margin since the 1898 race.[10] Meanwhile, Cambridge had reorganised their seating order the week before the race.[9] Oxford's boat was named after Russell Crockford who had rowed in Oxford's successful 1978 and 1979 races. He was killed in a car accident the previous year on his way to a regatta in Australia.[11]

Umpire Ronnie Howard modified the starting arrangements, making the boats commence the race closer together to dissuade the coxes steering into one another from the start.[10] He warned both coxes that should they foul, he would disqualify them.[12]


Sue Brown was selected to cox the Oxford boat, and became the first female competitor in the history of the Boat Race.[13] Although she had learned to cox at Wadham, she had already been selected to represent Great Britain in the Women's coxed fours at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.[6][14] She had impressed Oxford coach Dan Topolski who chose her for the Dark Blues.[14] Her selection caused a furore; according to Dodd, "Sue Brown must have passed before more shutters than anyone except for Lady Diana Spencer".[14] She was advised by Colin Moynihan who had coxed Oxford to their largest victory of the century in the 1977 race.[10] Boris Rankov was making his fourth appearance, but this time as a junior fellow of St Hugh's, rather than as an undergraduate at Corpus Christi. In doing so, he became the first representative of a women's college in the men's Boat Race.[15]

The Oxford crew weighed an average of 13 stlb (86.0 kg), 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) more per rower than their opponents. The race saw the return of no fewer than twelve former Blues, six in each crew. Only Richard Yonge, Richard Emerton and Brown for Oxford and R. Stephens, M. Clark and Mike Cowie for Cambridge were new to the race.[16] Graeme Hall was the Cambridge finishing coach,[17] while Oxford's Dan Topolski took over that role from Steve Royle two weeks prior to the race.[10][18]

Seat Oxford
University of Cambridge coat of arms.svg
Name College Weight Name College Weight
Bow P. J. Head Oriel 12 st 6 lb L. W. J. Baart Gonville and Caius 13 st 2 lb
2 N. A. Conington Oriel 12 st 10 lb M. F. Panter Lady Margaret Boat Club 13 st 12 lb
3 R. P. Yonge New College 14 st 4 lb R. J. Stephens Emmanuel 13 st 5 lb
4 R. P. Emerton Christ Church 13 st 1 lb M. J. S. Clark Downing 13 st 9 lb
5 N. B. Rankov St Hugh's 14 st 5 lb M. P. Cowie Fitzwilliam 13 st 7 lb
6 C. J. Mahoney Oriel 13 st 8 lb A. G. Phillips Jesus 13 st 0 lb
7 M.D. Andrews Oriel 14 st 1 lb J. S. Palmer Pembroke 14 st 5 lb
Stroke J. L. Bland Merton 14 st 1 lb A.D. Dalrymple Downing 12 st 12 lb
Cox S. Brown Wadham 6 st 8 lb C. J. Wigglesworth Jesus 8 st 0 lb
(P) – Boat club president


The Championship Course along which the Boat Race is contested

Oxford were strong pre-race favourites;[19] Ladbrokes themselves quoted Oxford at odds of five-to-one on to win.[20] Cambridge won the toss for the first time in seven years and elected to start on the Surrey station.[16] The race started at 1 pm under umpire Howard's guidance.[21] Both crews rating equally off the start, Oxford took an early lead and led by nine seconds by the Mile Post, allowing her to move the Dark Blue boat in front of Cambridge.[20] Pushing her crew to outrate Cambridge, Oxford extended their lead to 10 seconds by Hammersmith Bridge, 14 seconds by Chiswick Steps, 18 seconds by Barnes Bridge and 23 seconds by the finishing post.[20] Oxford won their sixth consecutive victory by eight lengths in a time of 18 minutes 11 seconds, the largest margin of victory since the Cambridge won the 1973 race by thirteen lengths,[22] and the largest margin of victory in the 20th century for the Dark Blues.[12]

In the reserve race, Isis beat Goldie by five lengths, their second consecutive victory.[8] In the 36th running of the Women's Boat Race, Oxford triumphed, their second consecutive victory.[8]


Oxford cox Brown avoided the traditional soaking in the Thames.[20] She later commented: "I steered extremely badly, but we still won."[13] Her coach Topolski said "She did a brilliant job."[23] Dodd, writing in The Guardian, described Oxford's victory as "crushing" following their "undramatic and calculated performance".[18] Jim Railton of The Times was impressed: "Without a doubt it is one of the finest crews Oxford have ever produced, arguably the best."[24]



  1. ^ a b "Dark Blues aim to punch above their weight". The Observer. 6 April 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  2. ^ Smith, Oliver (25 March 2014). "University Boat Race 2014: spectators' guide". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  3. ^ "Former Winnipegger in winning Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race crew". CBC News. 6 April 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  4. ^ "TV and radio". The Boat Race Company Limited. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b Dodd, p. 348
  6. ^ a b McClain, Barclay (18 February 1981). "Eight good men and Sue". The Glasgow Herald. p. 23.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ a b c "Men – Results". The Boat Race Company Limited. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  9. ^ a b Dodd, Christopher (1 April 1981). "Oxford training on barbed wire". The Guardian. p. 25.
  10. ^ a b c d Dodd, Christopher (4 April 1981). "Oxford ride a tide of success". The Guardian. p. 25.
  11. ^ Railton, Jim (31 March 1981). "Cambridge make three bow side changes". The Times (60890). p. 13.
  12. ^ a b Railton, Jim (4 April 1981). "The dark blue flames of ambition". The Times (60894). p. 17.
  13. ^ a b Culley, Jon (22 March 1994). "Where Are They Now?: Sue Brown". The Independent. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  14. ^ a b c Dodd, p. 138
  15. ^ Dodd, p. 260
  16. ^ a b c Dodd, p. 349
  17. ^ Dodd, Christopher (3 April 1981). "Starter's orders". The Guardian. p. 22.
  18. ^ a b Dodd, Christopher (6 April 1981). "Pulling away on a neat course". The Guardian. p. 16.
  19. ^ Humm, David (22 March 1981). "Steering against Sue: the Cambridge man with only an underdog's chance". The Observer. p. 26.
  20. ^ a b c d Hunn, David (5 April 1981). "Here's looking at Sue". The Observer. p. 23.
  21. ^ Dodd, p. 139
  22. ^ "Cambridge outclassed". The Sydney Morning Herald. 6 April 1981. p. 15.
  23. ^ "Woman coxswain a first – Oxford wins Thames race". The Globe and Mail. 6 April 1981.
  24. ^ Railton, Jim (6 April 1981). "Cambridge win the toss but that is all". The Times (68095). p. 8.


  • Dodd, Christopher (1983). The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race. Stanley Paul. ISBN 0-09-151340-5.

External links

  • Official website
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