Still in Books and Arts; Book Review; The Oxford-Cambridge boat race; Shock and oar;
Blood Over Water: Oxford Versus Cambridge. One Race. Two Brothers. Only One Winner. By David and James Livingston;
Sibling rivalry has many famous examples. Cain and Abel, Linus and Lucy, Liam and Noel. Less well-known, but no less competitive, are David and James Livingston, two brothers who, in April 2003, raced on opposite sides in the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race, one of the toughest sporting challenges in the world.
“Blood Over Water”, published to coincide with the 155th boat race on March 29th, tells in alternating narratives the story of how the brothers' quest for victory turned them into enemies. Providing context is the broader tale of the historic rowing competition between two prestigious universities.
The first boat race took place in 1829 on the River Thames at Henley in Oxfordshire and was the culmination of an idea of Charles Merivale, a Cambridge student, and his Harrow schoolmate Charles Wordsworth (nephew of poet William), at Oxford. Theevent was such a success—newspapers of the day reported crowds of 20,000—that Henley decided to organise its own (now famous) regatta and the boat race moved to Westminster in London. By 1845, with Westminster too crowded, the race moved up river to Putney. Today it still runs four-and-a-quarter miles (6.8km) from Putney to Mortlake and, despite being in the public eye for just one day each year, attracts a global audience of around 120m.
Training is brutal. For seven months potential crews (each with eight oarsmen and a cox) undergo two intense sessions every day, one on the water and one on indoor rowing machines or ergometers. Over that time they put in two hours' work for each of the 600 strokes they will take in the race. As they train, hearts race at over 200 beats a minute; lactic acid builds to stinging levels in muscles; fragile capillaries burst in the lungs. To combat the physical demands made on them oarsmen must consume 6,000 calories a day, more than twice the normal daily requirement for men. All of this must be balanced against the demands of tutors, supervisions, essays, exams and long-suffering girlfriends.
“Blood Over Water” stands out from the mass of sporting memoirs thanks to the authors' open portrayal of their relationship as the build-up to the race intensifies. David, the younger by three years, speaks unashamedly of his struggle to keep up with the high-achieving James, his emotions swinging from pride and love to envy and hate. James dreads failure and is consumed by the fear that his kid brother might beat him at his chosen endeavour. As race day approaches the two opposing camps eat meals at opposite ends of the family kitchen, communication is reduced to curt nods, and the feeling of brotherhood is replaced by one of hostility.
The irony of it all is that when Oxford wins the race, by one foot—a 0.0043% difference over the length of the course and the smallest margin on record—the younger man's joy is tinged with guilt at taking away his brother's dream. Proof indeed,that blood is thicker than water.