Braced for Boat Race week

Last week in a charity auction, a single seat on a launch following this year’s Boat Race was sold at auction for £500. By that mark, I’ve had few thousand pounds-worth over the last few years but this time I will be on dry land for the annual joust between Oxford and Cambridge.

Maybe it isn’t as historic as the first radio broadcast of the race in 1926, or the first live TV in 1938 – in part because others have done it before – but this year’s live text commentary on the official race website will hopefully be pretty special.

The project uses the blueprint for interactive live text coverage championed by the BBC (where I was normally producer rather than writer, except on rare occasions), the functionality provided by Cover it Live and some great work by Riskpoint, designers of this season’s relaunched Boat Race website to make the whole thing look and feel smooth

Reporters Libby Richards and Oscar Schonfeld will be on Twitter throughout Tideway week (contributing respectively to the @CUBCSquad and @OUBCSquad feeds) and will be my eyes and ears around the Putney Embankment on Saturday, while I’m based in front of a large plasma screen at the Mortlake Boat House, where the crews will end up.

And I hope we will get some good input not only from the 250,000 pairs of eyes lining the course for the race but also the seven million or so watching on TV, who will be able to send comments via the live console or get in touch on Twitter using the hashtag #theboatrace.

Perhaps unlike text commentaries of a decade ago, this isn’t just for people unable to watch or listen elsewhere; it should be a perfect complement on a laptop or mobile, whether as a “second screen” for TV viewers or a useful guide for those on the towpath as to what is going on further along the course.

And it will also be about the entire day, from the moment the crews arrive in Putney at 1130 BST, through the race at 1415 and reaction afterwards, going on until 1530.

The live text page is already available so please bookmark now and join in on Saturday.

I got a chance to visit the Oxford squad in Wallingford during training a few weeks ago, and put this video together for the West London Sport website. Fleming Boathouse is like nothing I’ve seen outside the GB HQ in Caversham, near Reading.

In fact it’s far prettier than Caversham, which is where the Great Britain team on Wednesday will reveal their line-ups for the first World Cup of the year, in what is likely to be an almost-finished draft of the Olympic crews.

There are lots of rumours flying, the obvious one being that Pete Reed and Andy Hodge have moved into the men’s four but also suggestions Alan Campbell has given up on the idea of competing in the double scull and will stay in his single.

All will be revealed on Wednesday but in the meantime it’s worth having a look at The Squad, a web series commissioned by British Rowing to introduce all of Great Britain’s to a wider audience.

The GB squad system in place now would have been completely foreign to national crews in the 1960s, but then (aside from a single medal won in 1964 by a four including Campbell’s coach Bill Barry) so was Olympic success between 1948 and 1972.

That was when GB’s Czech coach brought the country’s top rowers together and won the Olympic medals that marked the beginning of Great Britain’s rise to being one of the world’s top rowing nations.

I was engrossed last week in “Pieces of Eight: Bob Janousek and his Olympians” the new book by Chris Dodd (who I work with on the Rowing Voice online magazine).

Look around on Tideway week and you’re likely to see a few of the characters from the Janousek years still lurking (as well as plenty of boats built by Bob after he gave up coaching).

Westminster schoolboys might enjoy the tale of their head coach Bill Mason being ordered to have a haircut by the GB team manager, John Tillbury, while part of the Thames Tradesmen “Beatle Four” in 1973.

One morning Tillbury caught the tradesmen crew coming in a 830am and asked them where they had been.

‘To an all-night party,’ said the boys, ‘and we had a fantastic time pulling girls who fancied us because of our long hair.’

Actually they had been for an early morning paddle on the best water at the best time of day – a practice unknown to the British team until then. Tillbury went mad and pulled them up before the management.

There will be more from Chris, more on the Boat Race and more on the Great Britain squad announcement in the next issue of Rowing Voice, which is out at the end of the week.

Oh, and the new Rowing & Regatta magazine is out this week, featuring an interview with Annabel Vernon – the only Women’s Boat Race blue in the Great Britain squad – about her rowing roots.

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