Women and men together for Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race
She is a double Olympic and multiple World Champion from the United States, while he is an Olympic medallist and double World Champion from Great Britain. But on Saturday Caryn Davies and Constantine Louloudis will play key roles in a moment of rowing history.
For that is when the Boat Race – an annual encounter between the top men’s eights from Oxford and Cambridge Universities in Great Britain – will see the women’s eights from Oxford and Cambridge join the men for the first time, on the same afternoon, raced over the same course on the River Thames that has been its home for more than 150 years.
Davies and Louloudis will stroke their respective Oxford crews which are starting as pre-race favourites and both athletes are in no doubt that this is a special year.
But their experiences of Boat Races are completely different. Davies comes into the race as a relative novice in these matters, despite having stroked the US women’s eight to Olympic gold. Louloudis, on the other hand, is a veteran of three previous Boat Races and has won them all.
“In one sense it’s routine (for me). But looking back, each race has been different and I’m sure this race will be different. We’re not taking anything for granted,” says Louloudis.
For Davies it’s the intense media activity during race week that feels so different.
“We used to joke on the Olympic team that no-one cares what we do for 3 ½ years, but here all the attention seems to be in the week before the race!” says Davies.
Being first-timers at the Boat Race, the women’s crews have had to be briefed about what to expect on race day. Crowds in their thousands will line the 6800m course. Even the bus journey to the boathouse has to be carefully planned. Although the experienced Louloudis takes it all in his stride, members of his team, like the women, are experiencing it for the first time.
“I have to tell them about the environment on race day – the crowds, the helicopters, the shouts, the drunken spectators – those guys will never have been in an environment like that. Even the Olympics isn’t as intense as that," says Louloudis.
“We went over the protocol for the couple of hours before you launch and basically its being shuttled from one camera to the next," says Davies. "And we can’t just arrive – we need to wear a uniform, not our rowing gear, then past the crowd and into the boathouse."
This is a world away from the origins of the Women’s Race, back in 1927, when the first few results were decided on style rather than speed, in an age when women’s rowing was seen as unladylike. It then became a proper side-by-side contest, raced alternately in two locations. In 1977 the race was moved to the 2000m regatta course at Henley-on-Thames, where it remained until this year.
The steady rise in the standard of women’s rowing, coupled with changing ideas among the rowing hierarchy, and facilitated by a supportive sponsor, helped the Women's Race be included with the men's Boat Race.
Davies, who retired from the US team following London 2012, relished the idea of coming to Oxford for a one-year MBA, giving her the chance to make history in the Women’s Boat Race. “I had to apply for a scholarship – I think my parent were quite surprised that I was able to bring it all together and make it happen – they’re quite proud of that," says Davies.
Davies parents will fly in from their home at Ithaca, in upstate New York to see their daughter race, while Louloudis’ parents, will make the much shorter journey from their home in central London. They will be part of the global audience of millions, who will witness not only a great sporting spectacle but also a particularly British event.
“I think that people feel very involved with this race,” says Davies. “People who have no affiliation to either Oxford or Cambridge, they pick a team and they cheer for them , which makes you feel connected…..it’s kind of nice.”
Despite her short time at Oxford, Davies has picked up on an attitude shift among the men's team. “What’s changed seems to be the respect shown to us by the men – there seems to have been a change in attitude," says Davies. The men now realise that we are putting in the same work to race."
The Boat Race will be broadcast live on Saturday 11 April, 2015. The women's race will start at 4:50pm (GMT) ahead of the men's race at 5:50pm. Find out more here: http://theboatraces.org/
Copy thanks to Robert Treharne Jones