Marjon News

New research predicts best strategies for success in the Boat Race

Released: 24.03.16

Oxford and Cambridge crews throughout the history of the Boat Race have been analysed by sport scientists for the first time. 

A new study ‘Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race: performance, pacing and tactics between 1890 and 2014’ published by the University of St Mark & St John in the top journal ‘Sports Medicine’, reveals the most significant factors for victory, based on 124 years of data.

Results show that crews are significantly heavier than they used to be and that an early lead position and fast start strategy is of greater importance than other factors, such as starting stations.

Professor Andrew Edwards says: “It is surprising that no in-depth analysis of historical performances or tactical pacing profiles of the Boat Race exists in scientific literature.

Andrew Edwards Image

 “This was a unique opportunity to investigate factors for optimal performance. For example, the ability to sustain physical exercise for prolonged periods underpins successful performance in many endurance sports.”

“However, unlike cycling and running, rowing has received comparatively little scientific research on pacing performance and the unique form of head to head competition of two teams directly racing against each other in the Boat Race has so far been unexplored.”

Researchers at the University of St Mark & St John say there is an 80% winning chance from reaching the Mile Post in the lead, which is only 25% of the overall race distance. Much more important than the starting station in the race, is the importance of a heavyweight crew and an early positional advantage.

Professor Edwards adds: “From the first bend, the team starting hard and fast is highly likely to take the opposing teams line and gain the advantage right through to the finishing line –it’s pretty much a done deal.

“Examination of pacing strategies suggests the winning crew needs to set off 15% above their cruising/average boat speed in order to gain positional advantage.”

The study set out to examine the historical development of performances, pacing and tactics as well as physical characteristics of crews.

He continues: “Crews are considerably taller and heavier than they were over 100 years ago. Individuals used to be on average 77kg and 5’11, but are now 94kg and 6’2, so my winning strategy would be to pick the tallest and heaviest crew from undergraduate and postgraduate rowers.”

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