Rowing: Boat Race enters new waters with Sunday evening slot

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The Independent Online

Pity the poor cox who is ceremonially thrown into the Thames after next year's Boat Race - it is likely to be freezing cold and pitch black by the time he or she is immersed.

Pity the poor cox who is ceremonially thrown into the Thames after next year's Boat Race - it is likely to be freezing cold and pitch black by the time he or she is immersed.

For while the 150th renewal of this most traditional of races is to be held on a Sunday for the third time, it will be the first time it has ever taken place as late as 6pm.

The reason for the early evening start is not the tide table, or even the term times, but the television schedule. Following the excellent viewing figures of £7.7m for April's race - held on a Sunday and thrillingly won by Oxford by a foot - the BBC requested a 6pm start on 28 March in 2004.

This unprecedented timing could be considered ironic in the year that the race celebrates its 175th anniversary. To mark the occasion there will be a souvenir book telling the history of the 149 races since 1829, an exhibition in Henley, and a re-enactment of the first race using replica boats.

But there the similarity will end as anyone from 1829 would find the 6pm start just as unusual as all the sponsorship and corporate hospitality which now accompanies it.

After it was first contested in Henley, the race was moved to the tidal Thames at Putney and became annual in the 1850s. Traditionally it was held an hour before the top of the incoming tide on a date outside the Oxford and Cambridge terms - and neither would not have contemplated going afloat, let alone racing, on the Sabbath. It was not until 1984 that it was first held on a Sunday and then only because the Cambridge boat was wrecked on a barge half an hour before the Saturday start.

This year it was raced on a Sunday because it would have clashed with the Grand National. And while it probably holds true that time and tide wait for no cameraman, the next thing you know the Boat Race will be held under floodlights. Now there's an idea...

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