The second part of our blog to discover how rowing is connected to English culture, looks at how this great pastime became so popular in Great Britain. A very common school of thought is that rowing started as an elitist sport, in the grand colleges and universities of Britain.
But new publications and references on the history of British rowing have pointed out that rowing in Britain today owes just as much to the common man that the English Upper Classes. And a publication called Pieces of Eight, points out that the success of the Olympic Rowing Squad had just as much to do with the influence of Thames Tradesmen’s Rowing Club than either Oxford or Cambridge University.
Fame of English Rowing
Let’s face it, apart from the Olympics, even the top rowing regattas of the world are relatively unheard of outside rowing circles. Most sports editors of the English tabloids devote their time to football, racing, boxing and golf. Rarely will you see any rowing headlines in the national press, so the general public has no real concept what competitive rowing is all about.
The University Boat Race
The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race is one of the oldest and most famous rowing events in the world. It is steeped in tradition, both of the actual race and also the universities themselves. It associates rowing with the seat of learning in England, and all that is associated with that. But even this legendary boating competition has changed nearly out of all recognition. The modern students of both universities have often seen their fellow rowing students as a bit of a joke and belonging to a past generation.
But in recent years even this perception seems to have changed, the famous old race has no become a ruthless performance based examination. Where super fit athletes perform at their supreme best in a tough duel on the water. Many of the athletes in the Oxford and Cambridge race, later become Olympic rowers such is their skill and devotion. Gone is the elitist socialism that once ruled English rowing, banished to a bygone era.
The crews of the modern day boats in this great rowing race are prepared to put their lives on hold and enter into a strict training regime. They do so not for financial gain, but like all modern rowers in the sport today, they do this for the enjoyment of competition and challenge. They also do this for deep satisfaction of being the best of the best and to experience a team-spirit that cannot be beaten.
Rowing in England in 2018
Today rowing in England is more closely connected to pursuing sporting perfection than belonging to a certain social class. But turning the clock back the stereotypes connected to English rowing did support a pastime they adored.
It is not just rowing that had to come through different social periods, many sports and pastimes had to do the very same thing. And in a way, things like Strawberries and Cream at Wimbledon and Pimm’s on the lawn at Henley, have their own special place in English sporting history.