Rower criticises ‘poo in the water’ after Cambridge double win in Thames Boat Race

Cambridge Men's President Sebastian Benzecry and Cambridge Women's President Jenna Armstrong Credit: PA

Cambridge extended their dominant run in the Boat Race with victory in both the men’s and women’s showdowns, amid criticism over the impact of water pollution on the health of those competing.

The men claimed a fifth trophy in six years, while the women cruised to a seventh straight triumph.

Concerns had been raised over safety after research earlier this week found high levels of E. coli were in the part of the river used for the annual race between the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

One Oxford rower criticised conditions in the River Thames during the Boat Race, saying: “It would be a lot nicer if there wasn’t as much poo in the water.”

Cambridge Men's and Women's teams celebrate with the trophies after the Gemini Boat Race 2024 on the River Thames, London. Credit: PA

All crews were issued safety guidance on a range of preventative measures, from covering up scrapes with waterproof plasters to ensuring rowers avoided swallowing any water that splashed up from the Thames.

After the race, Oxford rower Leonard Jenkins told BBC Sport: “This morning I was throwing up and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to race.

“I kept that quiet and ultimately that’s on my shoulders, it may not have been the right choice because I didn’t have my all to give in that race.

“It would be a lot nicer if there wasn’t as much poo in the water.

“It’s not to take away from Cambridge, as we may not have beaten them even if we were all on top form.”

The Cambridge Men's team winning the 169th Men's Gemini Boat Race 2024 on the River Thames, London. Credit: PA

However, Mr Jenkins’ team-mate Will Denegri was more reluctant to blame team illnesses and water conditions for their loss.

He said: “This week we’ve had three people who have had to miss sessions because they’ve had stomach bugs, essentially.

“Whether that’s related to E.coli in the river I don’t know, but it’s certainly not helped our campaign, and it’s a poor excuse.

“It’s not an excuse, but it definitely hasn’t helped our preparation.”

Four-time Olympic rowing gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent was in attendance to watch the race and said a clean up of the Thames is well overdue.

Speaking to ITV News, he said: "I think what's frustrating from the rowing point of view, for the sport, is we've had decades of this.

"The Thames, the beautiful Thames, is getting slowly worse actually and that is really disappointing."

Speaking to ITV News, four-time Olympic rowing gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent said the water pollution in the Thames is 'really disappointing'

While the winning team traditionally throw their cox into the water, the Cambridge women’s team instead lifted their team-mate Hannah Murphy up inside the boat.

The Cambridge men’s cox Ed Bracey initially said he would not mind being thrown into the river following their victory, but instead had a bucket of clean water dumped on his head after his coach overrode him and said they “don’t want to take any risks”.

Ms Murphy said afterwards: “It is what it is. I think we want to support the research that’s being done and the guidelines by British Safety. It’s not really that important, ultimately.”

Cambridge Women lift up cox Hannah Murphy after winning the 78th Women's Gemini Boat Race 2024 on the River Thames. Credit: PA

Regular testing conducted by River Action and the Fulham Reach Boat Club between February 28 and March 26 detected E. coli, which can cause serious infections.

The 16 tests around Hammersmith Bridge in west London indicated an average of 2,869 E.coli colony forming units (CFU) per 100ml of water.

The Environment Agency’s quality standards level requires below 1,000 CFU per 100ml.

The highest level recorded was 9,801 CFU per 100ml, nearly 10 times higher than levels graded as “poor” by the regulator.

River Action said the testing locations in its research suggested the source of pollution is from Thames Water discharging sewage directly into the river and its tributaries.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Taking action to improve the health of rivers is a key focus for us and we want to lead the way with our transparent approach to data.

"We remain the only company to provide live alerts for all untreated discharges and this ‘near real-time’ data is available to customers as a map on our website and is also available through an open data platform for third parties, such as swimming and environmental groups to use.

"We have experienced higher than average long-term rainfall across London and the Thames Valley with groundwater levels exceptionally high for the time of the year.

"The overflows are designed to operate automatically when the sewer network is about to be overwhelmed which then releases diluted wastewater into rivers, rather than letting it back up into people’s homes.

"We are working hard to make these discharges unnecessary and have published plans to upgrade over 250 of our sites, including a £100 million upgrade of our Mogden sewage treatment works in South West London to treat the high volumes of incoming sewage and reduce the need for overflows during wet weather.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…