Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race Ratchets Up Pressure for Olympian
Former world rowing champion Storm Uru says the stress of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is the fun side of getting his MBA.
The 29-year-old Olympic bronze medalist was ready for a break from the sport, and wanted to pursue his master’s degree in business administration at Oxford after a year on the Bank of New Zealand’s trading desk. Now, more than half a year of six hours’ rowing and eight hours’ study a day will culminate in the four-mile 374-yard contest on the Thames in London this weekend.
“Coming here, at the beginning I didn’t quite get it,” Uru, whose sailboat-loving father gave him his distinctive name. “You’re almost doing the same amount of training as in elite international rowing. I see rowing as the fun side, study as the hard side. There’s your balance.”
Uru won a gold medal in the lightweight double sculls at the 2009 world championships and bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London. He’ll be in the bow seat of the University of Oxford’s Dark Blue eight in the April 6 event, the 160th time the two British universities have raced since 1829. The Light Blues of Cambridge lead with 81 victories to 77, with a dead heat in 1877.
The contest will be broadcast around the world, and the attention builds pressure on the athletes. They have to deal with stress higher than many Olympians or professional athletes experience, said Uru, who partnered Peter Taylor at the London Olympics.
“There’s so much more pressure with this,” the New Zealand native said in an interview. “You have 24 guys going for eight spots, and not much separates the rowers. Every single row I know the coach is watching. You always feel like you’re under the microscope.”
Last year, Uru was trading interest rates in Wellington at the Bank of New Zealand’s money-market desk, before deciding to pursue an MBA at Oxford’s Said Business School. He said he spent time on the bank’s forwards and swaps desks and the credit desk.
“My passion has always been markets,” Uru said. “I’ve invested in shares since I was quite young, I like currencies, all that sort of stuff really interests me. It’s sort of like my hobby, so the transition from that into a job was pretty much the best possible thing for me.”
The Boat Race was first held in the town of Henley, west of London, after a challenge between two old school friends. There was a seven-year gap after the first race, and it was held irregularly until 1856, when it became an annual event other then during the world wars. Since 1845, the races have taken place on the same bendy section of the Thames.
Banks of Thames
On race day, thousands of spectators, the majority with no meaningful allegiance to either university, will line the banks of the Thames from Putney to Mortlake, drawn by the tradition and the commitment of the oarsmen.
Uru is four years older than the average of this year’s participants. He’s the 12th New Zealander and 24th Olympian to go on to compete in the race, although many more have become Olympians after being honored with their Boat Race “blue.”
“Storm has shown outstanding commitment to training,” Oxford coach Sean Bowden said in an e-mail response to questions. “He missed some time before Christmas with some injury setbacks and had to train by himself at times and push himself to catch up. He is on the MBA program, which is highly intensive and time-consuming.”
Although he wants to pursue a career in finance, ideally for a hedge fund, the chance to study at Oxford meant he could continue rowing while also learning more about finance.
“I’ve got an opportunity to catapult myself into a good career, maybe in the City, or otherwise maybe have another shot at getting an Olympic gold in Rio” in 2016, he said.
The initial grind of training and studying for his MBA was hard to handle, he said. The demand on the crews means, on average, that the rowers spend about two hours of training for every stroke in the contest, according to race organizers.
Before the 5:55 p.m. start, the umpire will toss an 1829 gold sovereign to assign the starting positions, called stations. The north side of the river is the Middlesex station, the Surrey station is the south. It matters because the bends in the river can give one crew an advantage over the other, depending on which side they’re on.
Understanding the history is something that’s helped Uru, even though it’s so different from rowing in a New Zealand boat.
“It brings out passion,” he said. “Then you learn about the tradition, and then you start gelling together as a squad. Everyone’s putting so much on the line for this.”
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