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Originally published April 29, 2010 at 4:56 PM | Page modified April 30, 2010 at 3:19 PM

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Historic Oxford rowing team competes in Seattle

Oxford is the marquee invitee to Saturday's 24th annual Windermere Cup on Montlake Cut, hosted by the University of Washington.

Special to The Seattle Times

Windermere Cup schedule

Saturday, Montlake Cut

10:05 a.m.: Dragon boat demonstration race.

10:20 a.m.: Club races, junior high crews and up.

11:25 a.m.: Varsity Eight races (men: No. 1 UW, No. 10 Syracuse, Oxford, Oregon State; women: No. 9 UW, Syracuse, Oxford, Western Washington).

Noon: Opening Day boat parade.

12:15 p.m.: Awards ceremony, Conibear Shellhouse.

Montlake Bridge closed 9:40 a.m. to 3 p.m.

TV: FSN Northwest (delayed), 7:30 p.m.

Radio: KJR-AM (950), 10 a.m.

Rowing history

1829: First college rowing race: Oxford defeats Cambridge.

1852: First American college rowing race: Harvard defeats Yale.

1856: After 12 races between 1829 and 1854, Oxford vs. Cambridge ("the Boat Race") becomes an annual competition, excluding World War years.

1903: UW establishes a men's varsity eight, wins inaugural dual with California.

2010: Cambridge defeats Oxford in 156th annual Boat Race, leads series 80-75 (1877 race was controversially ruled a dead heat). Oxford had won four of previous five races.

Learn more: www.theboatrace.org

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The catchphrase is already taken, but every year an event known simply as the Boat Race renews a rowing tradition unlike any other.

It involves Oxford — the marquee invitee to Saturday's 24th annual Windermere Cup on Montlake Cut — and Cambridge, two English universities separated by 84 miles.

Rowers from the schools first matched oars in 1829, a competition viewed as the world's first college athletic event. It attracted 20,000 spectators.

On April 3, Oxford and Cambridge met in the 156th Boat Race (narrowly won by Cambridge), drawing 250,000 along the River Thames and 35 percent of all BBC television viewers.

"It's hard to think of a rivalry anywhere in the world that is perhaps quite as fierce," Oxford women's coach Chris Reid said.

Oxford and Cambridge have no other regular-season duals, no postseason, no schedule other than the Boat Race each spring.

"The raison d'être for the Oxford University Boat Club is to beat Cambridge in the Boat Race," said Oxford assistant coach Andy Nelder, who is directing the men's team in Seattle. "It's a peculiar year where you have only one event, and your whole year is judged on a single 17-minute race."

Other oddities exist: Lineups change radically from year to year as rowers, many being postgraduate students, rotate in and out of the roster. "We don't have guys for three or four years," Nelder said.

Then there's the course itself. Unlike the arrow-straight, 2,000-meter Olympic standard used in the U.S., the "Championship Course" on the Thames follows a winding, sometimes choppy path that travels four miles and 374 yards.

It's not uncommon for boats to trade paint as they navigate the route's three major bends, where tidal forces also play a role. Boats are vulnerable to getting swamped (six have sunk in Boat Race history); races have even been contested in snow.

"It's like whitewater rafting and NASCAR combined," said UW men's coach Michael Callahan, who observed racing on the Thames in 2008. "You really need to be in the right place in the river and read the water. The tactics are unbelievably complex."

Ante Kusurin, a 2006 UW grad and six-time Croatian national team member, rowed for Oxford in the Boat Race in 2007 and '09. He likens 2K races to sprints, the Boat Race to a marathon. "A lot of it is about strategy and how you position yourself," he said. "Coxswains play a big role."

Luke Magee, UW's third-year freshman coach, rowed for Oxford in 2002.

"It's a four-mile race," he said, "but it's not a gentlemanly start where you kind of ease into it and really go at the end. What makes it exceptionally hard is rowers are going at the same stroke rate, the same intensity as they do in a sprint, but just three times as long."

Notes

• The Washington men's varsity eight has won the past three Windermere Cups, seven of the past eight and all but two since 1991. The top-ranked Huskies men looked impressive last weekend while sweeping second-ranked California on the Golden Bears' home water. The varsity eight set a Redwood Shores course record while posting an open-water win. UW has defeated rival Cal four straight years.

• Syracuse coach Dave Reischman is a Gonzaga grad and a native of Arlington. Syracuse women's coach Kris Sanford rowed for UW and served as the stroke for UW's 1987 national champion women's varsity eight.

• The ninth-ranked women's V8 has won the past three Opening Days and has won 14 of the past 18 races. The Oxford women defeated Cambridge in the 65th annual women's Boat Race, staged on a 2,000-meter course one week before the men's race.

• A JumboTron (10 by 14 feet) positioned near the finish line at the southwest corner of the Cut will display live video during races. Bob Rondeau will call the action on KJR-AM starting at 10 a.m.

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