Boat Race: First woman picked to umpire men's Oxford-Cambridge rowing fixture

Sarah Winckless Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sarah Winckless will umpire the 166th men's race in March

A woman will umpire the men's Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race for the first time in its 166-year history.

Sarah Winckless, a former student at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, will officiate at the race on the Thames in London on 29 March.

She umpired the women's Boat Race in 2017 and the previous year umpired the reserve men's race.

"To be the first female umpire in charge of the Boat Race is a real honour and responsibility," she said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The umpire's main job is to shout directions at the crews to make sure they do not collide

Rower Miss Winckless, 46, competed in three Olympic Games and won a bronze medal in Athens in 2004 with doubles partner Elise Laverick.

She was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2015 for services to sport and young people.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Elise Laverick (left) and Sarah Winckless finished third in the Women's double sculls rowing final in the 2004 Olympic Games

"There are 10 rules of the Boat Race so that makes what you need to do sound relatively simple," Miss Winckless said.

"However, in the moment of competing on the course it could be a high-pressure situation."

Image copyright British Rowing
Image caption Miss Winckless be be the first woman umpire in charge of the men's race
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The boats must pass under the central arches of two bridges - Hammersmith (pictured) and Barnes

The rules of the race state the crews must keep to their stations (the Middlesex or Surrey sides of the river) unless they have a lead of "clear water" when, if they wish, they can use the opposite station.

Both crews must also row through the centre arches of two bridges where they often come perilously close to each other.

The umpire's job is to try to ensure neither crew commits a "foul" by warning them to keep to their own racing line.

Image caption The Boat Race was first televised, by the BBC, in 1938 when Oxford won

The Boat Race

  • The first Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race took place in Henley-on-Thames in 1829 when a Cambridge student challenged an Oxford student to a race
  • The second race in 1836 took place in London, but it did no become a regular annual fixture until 1856
  • The course, from Putney to Mortlake, is four miles, 374 yards long (6.8km)
  • The first women's race was in 1927, but it was not until 1964 that it became a regular fixture
  • Cambridge has won 84 men's races to Oxford's 80, while Cambridge's women have won 44 to Oxford women's 30

Source: The Boat Race website

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