Oxford and Cambridge renewed their 160-year-old rowing rivalry last Saturday 4,000 miles from the Thames. The two crews dueled on the khaki waters of the Chicago River—and had one of their most thrilling battles.
This was one of Oxford and Cambridge's occasional foreign exhibitions. In past years the teams have raced each other in cities from São Paulo to Istanbul, but never in the U.S. Chicago appealed to them because its river is, like the Thames, wonderfully sinuous. "This is the ideal place to duplicate our race in London," said Cambridge coach Alan Inns. "This river is eccentric and full of challenges." Oxford rower Guy Blanchard pointed out that the race has been held in far fouler bodies of water, such as Turkey's Golden Horn River. "There were dead dogs floating by," recalled Blanchard. "This water may be stagnant and full of chemicals, but at least there's no rubbish."
With a surprisingly large crowd, estimated at several thousand, watching—and a few landlubbers yelling, "Stroke! Stroke!"—Oxford shot out to an early lead on Saturday. Halfway through the two-mile race, Cambridge pulled even. The boats were so close that the rival oars circled around each other like meshing cogwheels. Sometimes the blades smacked together.
In the final sprint, with the crowd roaring, Oxford edged a few feet ahead of Cambridge to claim victory. "The races in England are never this close," said Inns. Afterward, both crews were engulfed by teenage girls eager for autographs. Crew seemed to have gained some new American fans.
The race didn't count in the official Oxford-Cambridge rivalry, which Cambridge leads 69-65-1. But as Cambridge rower Tim Carson put it, "Would you call that an exhibition? We were going for blood out there."