Men's Blue Boat 2003

2003 – the closest race of all time and the first time two pairs of brothers raced against each other


At Mortlake, the 2003 Boat Race trophy was presented by five-time Olympic gold medallist, Steve Redgrave, who declared that the race “will be the greatest we will see in any of our lifetimes”. The 149th Boat Race was so close it saw Oxford winning by just one foot in the closest race of all time, apparently closer even than the 1877 ‘dead heat to Oxford by 5 feet’. It was a full throttle tussle all the way. Our Cambridge crew squeezed out to ¾ of a length at Hammersmith but Oxford clung on and turned the tables as the head wind became a tailwind, and we were ¾ of a length down going through Barnes Bridge – on the outside of the bend. This was the first time in the history of the race that two pairs of brothers raced against each other.

Watch the 2003 Race

James Livingston was in the Blue Boat in 2003 and he says:

“Each time I watch the final few strokes on YouTube I’m convinced we’re going to come through and win. That final charge was incandescent but not quite enough. The race was doubly special as there were two sets of brothers in the crews. Fate played its hand and two days before the race our Cambridge eight crashed into the harbour master’s launch, snapping three oars and our bowman’s wrist. So Wayne Pommen, who would come back to win as President in 2004, had to sit out the race whilst the Goldie stroke Ben Smith was promoted to our bow seat. Ben Smith and I in the Cambridge crew faced our brothers, Matt Smith and David Livingston in Oxford’s. All the stranger, the four of us were close friends having learned to row at Hampton School together. To say those friendships and family relationships were strained was an understatement. 

David and I ended up co-writing a book about that unique time in our lives, Blood Over Water. For a long while the book almost became a film, with multiple scripts and cast attached over the years but it never quite happened.

Twenty years on the two 2003 Blue Boats raced on Saturday 25 March in a  250 metre sprint, with crew mates from Australia, the US and Germany as part of their reunion. With alumni and alumnae cheering them on, Cambridge took a slight lead early on which they extended to victory by half a length.

The 2003 Cambridge crew race again on the Tideway Credit: Alannah Burdess/Oxford University

Goldie was the only victory in 2003. They won by 9 lengths, coached by Rob Baker,  CUBC’s Chief Men’s Coach. After losing stroke man Ben Smith to the Blue Boat, Goldie was rerigged with every man sliding forward by a seat and the spare man slotting in the bows, meaning the original 7 man Nate Kirk stroked the crew. Nate stroked the crew to a 9 length victory despite only 2 days in the stroke seat and would go on to stroke the winning Blue Boat in 2004.

The Women’s Blue Boat lost however the crew featured Annie Vernon who went on to be 2 time World Champion and an Olympic Silver medallist in Beijing 2008.