BBC BLOGS - Annabel Vernon

Archives for March 2010

The Other Boat Race

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Annabel Vernon | 19:26 UK time, Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The University Boat Race between the men's crews of Oxford and Cambridge takes place on the River Thames in London on Saturday, amid much pomp, circumstance, celebrity commentators and a breathtaking amount of column inches compared to those for other rowing events.

But the 'other' Boat Races, for women and lightweights, take place a week earlier in Henley (Oxford won the women's Boat Race, and those for women's reserves and lightweights last Sunday).

Being a proud veteran of these 'other' races, competing for Cambridge in 2003, I've been asked to give my opinion on the differences and similarities between the races, and the position of the Boat Races in the national rowing calendar.

Having since been to one Olympic Games and four World Championships, the days training at Ely with the Cambridge University Women's Boat Club seem a long time ago.

The Henley races are a wonderful event: the banks of the river are lined three to four deep right down the course with our friends, family and supporters; there are busloads of students from each university, and the day is a true festival of rowing.

The men's Boat Race has been going on for longer, having first been contested in 1829, but the women's race has a strong tradition of its own, with a battle that has been raging since 1927.

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Family and friends do more than kiss and cry

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Annabel Vernon | 16:38 UK time, Thursday, 4 March 2010

When we compete, it looks like it's just us. The coaches are on the bank, the family are at home watching TV, the physiotherapists and support staff are waiting in the team tent to patch us up when we get back, and the other rowers are immersed in their own personal campaigns.

It's just me and my crew-mates sitting on the start line, holding our oars, watching for the moment the red light goes out and green comes on.

When we win it's just us standing on the medal rostrum; when we lose it's just us floating in our boats in the finish area, heads in hands.

But of course there's more to it than that. We often talk about the iceberg - we are the tip of the iceberg, the ones who are rowing the strokes and fighting the pain; but for every one athlete, there are literally hundreds of people below.

They're never seen on television but - to misquote John Donne - no athlete is an island: your family, friends and relationships form a rock-solid support network for you to rack up your achievements on top.

What does that really mean, though? What role do these invisible people actually play in the life of an athlete?

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