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The Hopeful Return of The Boat Race

BY OLIVIA COFFEY
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

With any luck, on April 4, 2021, The Boat Race between  Oxford and Cambridge will take place after a painful but prudent cancellation in 2020. For the first time since 1944, the River Great Ouse in Ely, U.K. will host the annual event.

Ely stands in stark contrast to the Tideway in almost every respect. The only boathouse that crews will see on race day belongs to the Cambridge University Boat Club– a beautiful modern structure situated against a backdrop of empty fields on one side and a small town with a grand cathedral on the other. Where the Tideway has twists and turns and a strong, variable current, the course at Ely is straight and calm, save for the occasional barge that slowly ambles through the canal.

The most exciting thing to happen on the banks of the Ouse, at least while I was training there, was when a herd of cows made its way to the river’s edge to check out the rowers below. Besides that, the fens seemed somewhat desolate and barren, especially during the cold and damp winter months. It’s a far cry from the Tideway, where on race day hundreds of thousands of people line the shore to catch a glimpse of crews speeding past.

By comparison to London, Ely lacks the grandeur and fanfare that usually accompany this stalwart regatta, and while everyone would love to see a familiar event run on a world-famous course with rowing’s largest crowds, we aren’t quite there yet. But the possibility of racing at all is reason enough to celebrate.

Ely may not have all the bells and whistles that London has to offer, but it has more than enough to run the kind of fair and safe competition the rowing world craves. If this past year has shown us anything, it’s that a lot is achievable with extraordinarily little (much like the workout below, which is great prep for longer race pieces).

After a year of setbacks, heartache, and unbelievable tragedy, the running of the 2021 Boat Race gives some hope that the tide may be turning, and smoother waters are ahead.

The Workout

2 x 2K, with 10 strokes on/8 strokes off (36-42 spm)

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