A boat race like no other

This weekend, in a Boat Race like no other, Fitz student Quinten Richardson (2020, MPhil in Planning, Growth and Regeneration) will be taking to the water in the Blue boat. It’s been anything but a conventional journey for Quinten and the crew, and we caught up with him during the final week of preparation to hear more.

Quinten started his rowing career at school on Vancouver Island in Canada, rowing in the enviable surroundings of Shawnigan Lake School. His skill and strength were quickly spotted, and he spent four years rowing at Brown University, alongside his academic work in Urban Studies. The Boat Race dream had been set early, following a High School alumni talk but, it wasn’t always clear that it would be a reality…or indeed, that he would pick the Cambridge boat!

“I remember thinking about the boat race during High School and then that was further solidified through my time at Brown.  The idea was always there….but then I graduated, and I knew that I needed to put in the work career-wise.”

Quinten spent the next six years developing his professional skills, but rowing was a constant backdrop - as part of the Brown alumni boat he competed in the Head of the Charles and the San Diego Crew Classic. But when he accepted his Cambridge place, on the Masters Course in Planning, Growth and Regeneration, he still wasn’t sure whether he would row:

“The truth is, when you take up any sport, but in my experience, particularly rowing, it consumes so much of your time and your energy. And I’m passionate about my academic work. But looking back, rowing has really transformed my year in lockdown and I couldn’t be more thankful that I stuck with it.”

Preparing for a Boat Race…in a national lockdown

This year’s preparation for the Boat Race was nothing like a normal year, and Quinten has found the experience both challenging and rewarding - perhaps even more than he might have expected:

“In a normal year the crews would be spending a lot of time at Goldie (the Cambridge Boathouse), training together on the rowing machines and lifting weights together. And of course we'd be spending a lot of time on the water, training camps etc.  But this year, most of the training has had to take place under restrictions. I’m very thankful to have ended up living with six other members of CUBC in one house where, unable to get to Goldie, we turned the backyard into kind of training centre. I set up a makeshift tarp that extended over the whole section, we squeezed in four ergs, and just accumulated a whole bunch of different weights from different college boat houses and from guys who lived locally.”

The makeshift training camp appears to have worked brilliantly, changing the focus from hours on the river to hours spent conditioning and working on the intricacies of technique from a rowing machine:

“Even though we were forced to spend far more time on the erg, and off the water than we would in a typical year, there has been a real sense of focus on detail. We’ve been sending in videos to the coaches throughout lockdown, and polishing things remotely.  There's a really specific technique to the ‘Cambridge stroke’, quite different to the approach I learned at Brown, and it's something that our coach Rob has really got a great ability to convey.  When we hit the water at the beginning of March, we were able to pull together amazingly quickly.”

Quinten's outdoor gym
There may well be a beautiful new Boathouse in Ely...but sometimes the backyard is all you have! Photo: Quinten Richardson.


At nearly 29 - his birthday is on Saturday! - Quinten is the grandfather of the boat, and with this comes a sense of quiet tranquillity:

“The lockdown that we've just been through was actually a real lifesaver for me, both in creating space to make strides physiologically and technically, but also to focus the mind. I’ve been able to find my own space over the last few months.  I now lead our pre-row warm up and have developed a really nice yoga flow, which we all do together.”

What will happen at the weekend?

This Sunday’s race - on the river at Ely - will be a marked contrast to the usual crowded banks of the Thames. But will there be a home advantage? We’ll have to wait and see…

“One of the most interesting things about rowing is that you have to be prepared for anything to happen on the water. And one of the biggest factors is wind.  I'd say that the ‘average’ of condition on the river at Ely is pretty terrible: cold and unpredictably windy. Or more specifically, it is entirely predictable that it will be windy, but the wind can be in any direction!”

At the time of writing, the forecast for Sunday is a cool 12 degrees, with a not-insubstantial Fen blow from the west…fingers crossed!

Umpiring the men's race, the first woman in history to do so, will be Fitz alumna Sarah Winckless (NatSci Physical 1993).

We interviewed Sarah back in January 2020, when her role was first announced, and you can read that article here

To watch The Gemini Boat Race 2021, tune in to BBC One from 3pm, Sunday 4th April.

Quinten, centre. Photo: Benedict Tufnell/ROW360


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