The Lightweight Varsity Race
Our annual Lightweight Boat Race against Oxford has taken place at Henley since 1984. Following the inaugural 1984 lightweight varsity race, four of the winning Cambridge crew (Louise Makin, Stephanie Bew, Jane Fullam and Mary Phillips) formed a lightweight coxless four that won a silver medal at the National Championships and was then selected to represent GB at the 1984 FISA Championships for Lightweights in Montreal.
In 2016, the Lightweight Women provided the most exciting race of the day. With a slightly more aggressive start, Cambridge took the early advantage, achieving a lead of 1/3 length and extended that lead to ½ length by Upper Thames RC. Oxford responded and started to close the gap at Fawley. With the two crews neck and neck it was clear that another classic race was in progress. Oxford increased their rate of striking to 36 approaching Temple Island and put their bow-ball in front for the first time. Verdict, Oxford by a canvas in a time of 6.54.
Cambridge 17 wins v Oxford 16 wins
Having staged the first Lightweight race between the men of Cambridge and Oxford in 1975, Henley is now the venue solely dedicated to both the men and women’s Lightweight Varsity Race.
There is a rich history of Boat Races held on the river at Henley-on-Thames. The original Men’s Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford in 1829 was rowed here (before their move to the Tideway in London in 1936). Similarly, the Women’s Blue Boats and Reserve Crews had their Boat Races in Henley between 1977 and 2014.
However, there is a strong lightweight affiliation with the Henley Reach. In 1974, Great Britain recognised lightweight rowing as a separate sport and Richard Bates, an undergraduate of St John’s College, Cambridge, thought that a boat race between lightweight oarsmen from the two universities might prove to be a popular event. His idea was enthusiastically received and when Cambridge issued a challenge, Oxford were quick to accept. Lightweight rowing clubs were founded at both universities and it was agreed that the venue for the race should be the traditional home of rowing. On Sunday 23rd March 1975, the first Lightweight Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge took place over the Henley Reach.
In 1977, the Women’s Boat Race was invited to join the Lightweight Men’s VIII in Henley and in 1984 they were joined by the Women’s reserve crew and the Lightweight Women’s VIII.
The Henley course is a similar length to rowing’s typical 2km race, but coxes must take stream conditions and the bends of the river into account. Much like the Tideway Boat Races, the Henley Boat Race Crews prepare to meet one opposition, side by side in a single race which is the focus of the entire year’s training.
For more information on the Henley Boat Races, please go to their website here.