Words: Beejoli Shah

Photography: Sophie Green

The Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge is one of England's most storied competitions. It's a four-mile, 374-yard sprint along a choppy section of the River Thames. The race has gone largely unchanged in its 186-year history—until this year, when the Oxford and Cambridge women's crews raced on the same day as the men. For purists, the sanctity of centuries of tradition was diluted. For the overwhelming majority, one of Britain's most exclusive events widened its gates. The rowers only want to win. In a world where one race seals the legacy of an entire season, nothing else matters.

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Since 1829, the Oxford and Cambridge men's crews have rowed against each other 161 times. Though Cambridge still holds the overall advantage with 81 victories, this year Oxford took both the men's and women's races by six and six-and-a-half lengths, respectively.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015—attendees descend en masse to various points along the Championship Course to picnic on the banks with family and friends and catch a glimpse of the boats as they whip by. As most spectators see just a few seconds of the action at best, Boat Race crowds are made up mostly of alumni from the competing universities, congregating for an unofficial annual reunion.

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The Boat Race's route has no formal lanes, so the winner of a coin toss picks a bank to start on, despite knowing that the two boats will end up clashing in competition for the fastest currents, which run at the deepest points of the Thames. Given the course's unyielding nature, and the fact that the team can cut in front of the opponent directly into a faster current, the team that's ahead at the halfway point usually goes on to win.

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The rivalry between the two schools is as well-established as the race itself. This is best illustrated by a statement on Oxford University Boat Club's website, "OUBC was established in 1829 with the sole objective of winning the Boat Race. The Club's objective remains unchanged since 1829." Though both teams compete in other events throughout the year, it's been long accepted that the Boat Race is the only one of any importance.

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