IT’S party time again, when the Universities Boat Race hits Port Alfred from September 13 to 15.
The annual race, a big event on the Port Alfred sports and social calendar, will again be contested by nine universities with rowing teams and novice rowers.
The University of Pretoria Men’s A team has dominated the race in the past three years, but University Rowing trustee Sean Kerr believes an upset is on the cards this year, as the University of Cape Town’s team has “an exceptional number of national caps” in its team this year.
In the Women’s A race, the champions for the past two years have been the University of Johannesburg.
TOSSING THE COX: The University of Pretoria crew celebrating their win over the University of Johannesburg in the Men’s A final of last year’s Mutual & Federal Universities Boat Race. It was the third consecutive year Tuks took top honours Picture: JON HOUZET
“Our athletes train harder for this race than for any other during the year, as this is the one above all others they want to win,” said Kerr.
While rowers battle it out on the Kowie River, hundreds of fellow students are anticipated to descend on Port Alfred to support their teams along the river bank and party up a storm every evening.
It is the 32nd boat race and the 12th to be sponsored by Mutual & Federal, a member of the Old Mutual Group.
“It is gruelling competitions such as these that have made South African rowing such an international powerhouse,” said Vuyo Lee, executive: brand, customer and transformation at Mutual & Federal.
South Africa’s gold-winning team in this year’s London Olympics Men’s lightweight-four rowing competition – Sizwe Ndlovu, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and James Thompson – are no strangers to Port Alfred.
The Universities Boat Race has grown in stature with each consecutive race to become the premier event in the university rowing calendar.
So high is the quality of rowing that no fewer than six of the universities participated in this year’s World University Rowing Championships in Kazaan, Russia.
The local event consists of a series of races on the Kowie River running through Port Alfred, culminating in a final on September 15.
It is similar to the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race, being completed over the same distance and featuring a series of head to head duels with the best crews in men’s and women’s university rowing.
Kerr said interest in the traditionally highly-contested and exciting event is heightened this year by the fact it is an Olympic year, and the South African Olympic team members have all at one time or another participated in this race. Some even return to compete again this year.
“It is in no small measure due to the level of competition at this event and other comparable ones that South Africa has such a high standing in universities rowing. At U23 level, South Africa is among the best in the world, a fact which speaks of the professionalism and discipline with which the sport is managed and contested” said Kerr.
“Another factor is that it is a university sport, which bestows much glory and prestige to the winning university, so it is taken seriously with all the resources universities have.”
A key element of the race is the novice race which has been upgraded this year to a full event for the first time in its five-year history.
Kerr explained that few universities can make up a full team of eight novices, and smaller boats have been inconvenient.
“This year we have opted for the regional approach, so that full teams can be put up by universities joining forces. As a full event it will have greater substance,” he added.
“Mutual & Federal is proud to be associated with this sport – in which we performed outstandingly at the Olympics. We hope that South Africa’s gold will inspire other up and coming university rowers to believe that anything is possible,” said Lee.