The first men’s and women’s Boat Races held over the same course on the same day were hailed as “a step forward” for the sport.
Oxford University beat Cambridge in both races, which were held on the Tideway in west London on Saturday for the first time since the men’s race started in 1829. The women’s edition, dating to 1927, got equal billing and funding thanks to more than 250,000 pounds ($366,000) sponsorship by Newton Asset Management.
“It’s been a real step forward, a real advert for rowing,” four-time Olympic champion Matthew Pinsent told the British Broadcasting Corp. The Briton, who rowed in three Boat Races for Oxford, called it “the biggest Boat Race I have ever seen.”
The women previously competed a week before the men on a shorter course and in front of a few hundred spectators.
“Women have been absent,” Oxford coach Christine Wilson said in an interview before the race. “What’s happening here in 2015 is really just allowing this particular sporting event to catch up.”
Wilson, a former assistant coach to the U.S. Women’s Olympic team and former head coach of women’s rowing at Yale and Cornell universities, said other competitions don’t divide the sexes.
“The Olympics don’t identify as the women’s Olympics and the men’s Olympics,” she said. “That is important for this event, because there is so much global spotlight on it.”
The Oxford women’s crew won the 6.8-kilometer (4.2-mile) race on the Thames, beating Cambridge for the seventh time in eight years. The eight-person crews rowed in front of a global television audience as 250,000 spectators watched from the riverbanks on a sunny but windy afternoon. Cambridge holds the overall lead at 41 to 29.
The Oxford women took a boat length lead after two minutes and extended that as the race went on. The Dark Blues, the 1-6 favorite at Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, finished 6.5 lengths ahead in a time of 19 minutes 45 seconds.
An hour later the men made their move about halfway through the race, pulling away to leave Cambridge in their wake. Oxford won by 20 seconds in a time of 17:34, a third consecutive victory to come closer to evening the series, which now stands at 81-79.
Winning on the Tideway was harder than claiming Olympic gold, Oxford’s stroke Caryn Davies, a two-time U.S. Olympic rowing champion, told the BBC. “It’s about three times as long.”
Davies, who won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics with the U.S. eight, is a 32-year-old Columbia Law School graduate studying for an M.B.A. at Balliol College.
“It’s a really special moment,” Anastasia Chitty, president of the Oxford University women’s boat club, said. “There were so many women before us who have not had this opportunity. It’s really humbling that we are at Oxford at the right time.”