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Hampton’s Greatest Sporting Moments: Two sets of OH brothers face off in Boat Race

With your help, HSC has been attempting to find the identity of Hampton’s Greatest Sporting Moments. This article tells the story of the Boat Race in 2003, which featured two sets of OH brothers, the Livingstons and the Smiths. This will compete against three other moments in Group Six. Vote in our Twitter poll on Friday to decide your favourite moments – the winner will progress to the quarter-final stage!

Most great sporting clashes gain extra spice from a touch of sibling rivalry – but it’s surprisingly rare.  Sporting brothers, for one reason or another, tend to end up on the same side: Bobby Charlton and older brother Jack in 1966; Ian Chappell and younger brother Greg in the crack Australian cricket teams of the 1970s; in more recent times, the Youngs brothers and the Vunipolas for England rugby; the Curran brothers for national and county cricket teams.  But what happens when brothers find themselves on opposing teams?  And what happens when this applies not to one pair of brothers, but to two?  The Boat Race of 2003 provides an answer no-one foresaw.

The Boat Race is one of those sporting institutions, like the Grand National and the Cup Final, that the British like to think is watched by pretty much everyone on the planet.  Right or wrong, it certainly has a distinctly international flavour.  The 2003 Boat Race was no exception, with two Americans, two Australians, two Germans and a Canadian among its eighteen principal participants.  But it was four home-grown competitors who caught the eye this time: two pairs of brothers, the Smiths and the Livingstones, who had all been at school together and rowed in the same schoolboy crews, but were now equally divided between the two boats.

The drama began some 48 hours before the race itself, when the Cambridge boat was involved in a high-speed collision during last-minute practice.  The first-choice bow was put out of the race, to be replaced by Ben Smith, whose brother, fellow Old Hamptonian Matthew, winning his fourth Blue, was the Oxford stroke.  With this late change in personnel, the Smith brothers joined their old school friends the Livingstones – James (rowing for Cambridge, their single returning Blue) and David (Oxford) – in a family affair for which the Boat Race in all its storied history has no parallel.

The race itself was a cracker. Cambridge won the toss and opted for the Surrey station.  Oxford took an early lead and a quarter of the way in, were half a second ahead.  But a series of clashes between the boats forced the Dark Blues to back off, and now Cambridge had the advantage, taking Hammersmith Bridge a second up.  Then when the river curved back to favour the Middlesex station approaching Barnes Railway Bridge, Oxford inched ahead by three-quarters of a length.  Now it was Cambridge’s turn to apply the pressure, and as the finishing line approached the Light Blues were gaining with every stroke of the oar.  But Oxford just held on, to win the day by a single foot (over a course of 4.2 miles) – the narrowest winning margin in the history of the race.

Reaction was instant and unanimous: Olympic rowing gold-medallist (and Hampton School teacher) Mr Martin Cross, writing in The Guardian, described it as “a thrilling finish” and discerned “renewed interest from the public.”  The Independent called the finish “stupendous, a titanic battle of will,” and The Telegraph thought the race “epic” and advised readers that “there will never be a better Boat Race.”  Meanwhile, five-time Olympic gold medal winner Steve Redgrave, presenting the trophy to the winning captain, kept it simple: this had been, he observed, “the greatest race we will see in our lifetimes”.

Mr Peter Smith, Teacher i/c, Hampton Sports Chronicle

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