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St John's students row for Cambridge

"There will be a strong showing from LMBC on the banks of the Thames on Saturday cheering him on.”

Published: 23/03/18

St John’s student and Lady Margaret rower, Charlie Fisher, will be representing Cambridge this weekend in the 2018 Boat Race against Oxford.

St John’s students have already been victorious against Oxford this week. Johnians Felix Koninx and Theo Weinberger were part of the winning Men’s Lightweight crew at the Henley Boat Races last Sunday. They overcame difficult weather conditions and a last minute venue change to take the fourth victory in a row for Cambridge, winning by 2½ lengths.

Cambridge have only won the Men’s Boat Race once in the past five years, so there are high hopes the Light Blue Men’s team can repeat the success of the Lightweight crew. A win for Cambridge would be especially significant for Charlie as he rowed in the first boat the last time they won in 2016. When Charlie joined the Men's Blue Boat crew in 2016 he was the first St John's student to do so since 2001.

More than 250,000 people are expected to line the banks of the Thames across the 4.2 miles of the course to watch the race. Lady Margaret Boat Club captain Robert Blyth says some of these spectators will be St John’s rowers. “We're very proud of Charlie’s achievements, and there will be a strong showing from LMBC on the banks of the Thames on Saturday cheering him on.”

BBC1 will also be broadcasting live coverage of the event from 3.50pm. The Women’s Boat Race is set to begin at 4.31pm followed by the Men’s Boat Race at 5.32pm.

Here we speak to Charlie and find out what got him interested in rowing, what it is really like rowing in the Boat Race, and how he’s managed to train while also studying for an MPhil in World History.

Charles Fisher

"I really enjoy the training and the team aspect. I couldn’t do the early morning starts outside of the team environment."

How did you first get involved with rowing?

I started at school when I was 13. My dad and sister had done a bit of rowing before me so it wasn’t a total leap of faith. I had grown up (and still live) near the Thames in Kew, which is a very busy stretch for rowing crews. So I had seen the rowing boats go past from a very early age.

I was lucky that my school (King’s College School, Wimbledon) had a rowing section. One of the initiatives I am happy that the Boat Race has set up this year is ‘Future Blues’, which is looking to get all 52 state schools in the boroughs that border the Boat Race course onto the water.

What is it about the sport that has kept you interested?

I’m tall and have long levers so am well suited to the sport in terms of my build. Rowing is a sport that rewards commitment, as you slowly improve your technique and fitness base over many years. So I was always quite invested for the long term.

Above all, I really enjoy the training and the team aspect. I couldn’t do the early morning starts outside of the team environment.

Is the Tideway the toughest course you have faced?

When I won the race in 2016, the conditions on the day were horrific. We have pumps in the boats nowadays but I suspect we would have otherwise sunk. If it had been a public race, there is no doubt it would have been cancelled. The Boat Race course presents a lot of challenges, and it’s tough because it is tidal. So, you can easily get a strong wind blowing against the tide, which causes havoc in terms of the conditions. When the waves start to break, you are in for a rough ride.

The course is also tricky because of the various bends along the way. This makes the Boat Race an incredibly tactical event: attacking on some bends, and defending on others.

How are the team feeling about the race this weekend?

I would say that we are confident but grounded. We have done more mileage in our programme this season than any previous Cambridge crew so we are fit for the challenge. But, we are expecting a tough, hard fought race.

The 2018 Boat Race crew

Charlie Fisher (second from right) stands with his crewmates for the 2018 Boat Race

"When I won the race in 2016, the conditions on the day were horrific."

What has it been like balancing studying for a Masters alongside your training?

My MPhil in World History is a research one, so I have appreciated a greater degree of flexibility to work around training. The level of independent study is a step-up from the last 3 years in which I was an undergraduate at St. John’s. However, there are fewer lectures in the faculty to attend.

Probably the biggest challenge has been getting enough archival research in, given the need to be in Cambridge and Ely for training. Thankfully I have a great supervisor (Dr Andrew Arsan, also at St. John’s) who has guided me effectively. Dr Arsan supervised my undergraduate dissertation so I am thankful to have kept that continuity this year.

I’m also very grateful for the College’s Blues Expenses Fund, which has been invaluable to me in helping to support my training.

Have you enjoyed rowing for the Lady Margaret Boat Club during your time at St John’s?

I have rowed in LMBC M1 for every May Bumps since I was a fresher. I love racing in the May Bumps. It’s a really fun format of racing and usually the weather is great. A nice change from the cold, long sessions in Ely during the winter! The atmosphere at LMBC is also a bit more light-hearted, which is fun to be a part of.

In my second year, we took the headship for the first time in 27 years. It was a really important moment for LMBC and the College, and a long time in the making. Thankfully, we retained the headship last year, a feat LMBC will be looking to repeat this year!

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