The countdown to the 2024 Boat Race officially began last Thursday with the annual Presidents’ Challenge ushering in another season of competition between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
The event, held at No.11 Cavendish Square in London, saw the men’s and women’s Presidents of Oxford and Cambridge university boat clubs come together with Boat Race Company directors, student athletes and team and event sponsors to fire the starting gun on the next edition of the world-famous sporting event.
The Presidents’ Challenge traditionally sees the Presidents representing the losing teams of the previous year’s race formally challenge those from the winning teams, marking the renewal of an intense rivalry which stretches back nearly 200 years.
Those in attendance gathered with anticipation to witness Oxford University’s Louis Corrigan and Ella Stadler challenge Cambridge University’s Sebastian Benzecry and Jenna Armstrong. The pairs faced off before shaking hands on stage in front of the coveted men’s and women’s trophies.
Following the Cambridge clean sweep in 2023, the whitewash has left Oxford determined to build winning crews for the 2024 event, which has also seen the university join Cambridge in unifying the men’s and women’s boat clubs for the first time.
Louis Corrigan from Oxford University Boat Club said: “We’ve had a good recruiting run this year. We’ve got some returners that are very hungry for the win, combined with fresh blood bringing that competitive spirit.”
Despite only having a handful of returning athletes Jenna Armstrong, Women’s Presidents from Cambridge University Boat Club commented: “The numbers that we’ve been producing on the water are really promising, and we’ve seen some massive PBs during our testing.”
The evening, hosted by rowing legend and broadcaster Martin Cross saw an engaged audience wowed with insights and facts about the race including a fascinating nugget that, outside of women’s football, The Gemini Boat Race is the most watched women’s sporting fixture in the UK.
Siobhan Cassidy, Chair of The Boat Race Company, added to this: “It’s amazing that for people who watch rowing, The Boat Race might be their first touchpoint of the sport. It’s easy to understand – you have two boats and people who have nothing to do with Oxford or Cambridge will pick a colour. This fiercely contested ‘Battle of the Blues’ is watched by millions, and it’s that competitive spirit that drives each and every rower to strive and to keep learning.”
The Gemini Boat Race 2024 will take place on Saturday 30th March, with the 78th Women’s Race to be followed shortly after by the 169th Men’s Race.