Garth Holden – a South African originally from Johannesburg – took part in the esteemed annual “Boat Race” and helped his crew take the win!
United Kingdom (05 April 2021) – Perhaps one of the most famous sporting events the world over, and without doubt one of the most accessible rowing events on the British roster, the Boat Race has dazzled fans with high-octane drama for over a century, and this year our very own Garth Holden took part AND WON!
The Boat Race is a side-by-side rowing competition between the University of Oxford (sometimes referred to as the “Dark Blues”) and the University of Cambridge (sometimes referred to as the “Light Blues”). First held in 1829, the race has usually taken place on the 6,8 km Championship Course, between Putney and Mortlake on the River Thames in south-west London. The 2020 event was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom.
The 2021 race took place on the River Great Ouse near Ely, Cambridgeshire, between Queen Adelaide Bridge and Sandhill Bridge, Littleport, rather than the traditional Championship Course in London. The crews were announced on 25 March 2021. It was the first time in the history of the event that both the women’s and men’s races were officiated by female umpires, in Judith Packer and Sarah Winckless respectively. The reserve races are to be held at a later date in Ely.
Cambridge led the longstanding rivalry 84–80 and 44–30 in the men’s and women’s races, respectively.
Holden (a South African originally from Benoni) matriculated from St Benedicts in 2015 and went on to study in the UK – currently from St Edmund’s – was selected for one of the 8 seats in the men’s Blue Boat for the Boat Race. Before rowing for Cambridge, Garth represented South Africa at World Rowing Championships in 2014, 2016, and 2017.
Oxford took the west side of the river. The men’s race started at 4:53 p.m., with Oxford rating slightly higher than their opponents but falling behind. Within two minutes, Cambridge were almost a length ahead but were warned several times by Winckless for encroachment. Four minutes in, she issued a warning to both crews of potential debris in the river ahead, which both crews navigated without issue. Oxford then went for a push in the sixth minute, but Cambridge remained in the lead, although down to half a length. On ten minutes, Cambridge pushed before Oxford reciprocated two minutes later, and with less than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) remaining, the Dark Blues began to reduce the deficit. Cambridge passed the finishing line first, winning by almost one length. It was Cambridge’s fourth victory in the last five races and took the overall record in the event to 85–80 in their favour.
Cambridge won the toss and elected to start on the west side of the river. After a brief delay, while both cox’s indicated they were ready to start, the race commenced at 3:53 p.m. Early on, Oxford were warned by Packer for encroaching into Cambridge’s water and were instructed to steer away, while Cambridge took a slight lead. Both boats were in close proximity to one another, and four minutes in, Oxford held a slight advantage, although Packer continued to warn the Dark Blue cox. After seven minutes, Oxford were around a third of a length ahead as Cambridge started a push, taking the lead with fourteen minutes of the race gone. The Light Blues held a length’s lead a minute later, and although Oxford remained in touch, Cambridge passed the finishing line first. It was Cambridge’s fourth consecutive victory and took the overall record in the event to 45–30 in their favour.
According to tradition, both winning coxes were thrown into the river; however, this year, they were followed by the victorious crews.
Sarah Tisdall, Cambridge’s stroke, was magnanimous in victory: “Awesome race, massive congrats to Oxford. That’s the closest boat race the females have had.”
The Cambridge women’s president Sophie Paine received the trophy and noted that “I think this is absolutely historic for women. So many of us have been training for this for two years now, and it means so much for us to have that pay off.”
James Cracknell suggested that the Oxford men’s cox should have “steered into those reeds and forced a restart”.
The bow for Cambridge men’s boat, Theo Weinberger, suggested that he would “dream of this moment … it’s two years’ worth of training and hard work … there’s anything you can quite compare it to.”
Cambridge’s men’s president Callum Sullivan described the season as “fantastically unique”.
The winning margin in both races was less than one length, which was the closest in the men’s race since 2003 and the women’s race since 2011.