The annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race, known in England simply as "the Boat Race," has been a rite of spring on the Thames since 1829. (Current tally: Cambridge has 81 wins, Oxford 76.) It's a massive spectacle steeped in Olde England-style pageantry and, as such, has come to be seen by some as an intolerable vestige of elitism and colonial oppression, or at least an opportunity to shout and protest about such things. But when I wrote a piece about the 2005 boat race for Rowing News (which I cannot seem to find online), I found the event to be less about class divides than about a subject that unites young people of all backgrounds: partying. The boat race, it turns out, is a gigantic spring "piss up" on the banks of the Thames.
So it certainly killed everyone's buzz when, at the 158th running of the race on April 7th, the argument boiled over with an unprecedented breach of decorum. As the New York Times reported:
A bit more than halfway down the four-mile course, a bearded Australian in a wetsuit who had posted a 2,000-word essay on the Internet beforehand titled “Elitism Leads to Tyranny” jumped into the river and swam directly into the path of the two boats, which were racing neck and neck. The churning oars of the Oxford boat narrowly missed hitting him, but his presence caused sufficient alarm that the race umpire waved a red flag to halt the contest.
The protestor was hauled out and handcuffed, and the race was re-started after a half-hour delay (Cambridge eventually won), but all the drama left it a tainted race, and more so when one of the Oxford oarsmen collapsed at the finish and had to be taken to the hospital. The cumulative effect for the spectators was dire. As the Times reported, "The usual postrace celebrations were abandoned, with no trophy presentation, no speeches and no Champagne."
And, this being England, the press immediately launched into questions about London's preparedness for this summer's Olympic games, as in this report in the Telegraph, which quoted the Chairman of British Olympic Association allowing that it's hard to prepare for the actions of "a lone idiot". Ah, England.