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Morgan McGovern Morgan McGovern: Image Courtesy Professional Sports Group

The Boat Race 2018: Q&A with Morgan McGovern
American rower Morgan McGovern tells us about competing for Oxford in the 2018 Cancer Research UK Boat Race
Oxford University | St Catherine's College | Course MBA | 30yrs • 175cm • 72.1kg
Published on March 20, 2018

Where are you from in the States, and what brought you to the UK? What are you studying here?

What brought me to the UK? The fantastic weather, obviously. I'm originally from San Francisco and came to Oxford for my MBA. I chose the program, because the business school places a huge emphasis on social impact work, which I hope to pursue upon graduation.

What got you involved in rowing, and how did you come to be a part of 2018's Boat Race?

I started rowing my first year at Georgetown and haven't been able to quit. I "retired" both after the 2010 IRA and 2016 World Championships, but somehow keep coming back to the sport. I have been watching the race for years - last year, I even watched it on my phone from the small Kenyan town in which I was working. So, when I received my acceptance to Oxford, I knew I had to trial for the Boat Race.

The first Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race took place over 180 years ago, in 1829. Is the Boat Race an event you were aware of before you arrived in the UK? What does it mean to be taking part in such a historic event, and one which Oxford and Cambridge alumni the world round take an interest in?

I first found out about the Boat Race in college; our assistant coach had coxed and won the 2009 Boat Race for Oxford. Since, I've had a number of friends compete in the Boat Race on both sides, and in both the men's and women's races. The Boat Race is such an incredible and historic event and different from any other amateur event in which I've competed. It's a privilege to participate in a tradition that started 180 years ago, and to join the ranks of extraordinary Oxford women who helped get OUWBC to where we are today. 

Given the traditional British weather, is it more difficult to train in the UK than it is in the USA?

I spent four years rowing at the Potomac Boat Club in Washington, DC, where we row year-round. DC winter is probably as miserable as Oxford winter. You just learn to wear as many layers as possible while still being able to move. And wool socks. But we're actually lucky here, in the UK, because unlike the Potomac, the Thames never froze on us.

How do you prepare in terms of training for the Boat Race?

Both the men's and women's teams at Oxford are fortunate to have phenomenal coaches. Andy, our head coach, coached Isis for 11 years and won 9 Reserve Boat Races. He and our physiologist collaborate on a training plan that begins in September and develops our fitness and technique to best prepare us to race (and, ideally, beat) Cambridge.  

How intense is the Oxford / Cambridge rivalry when it comes to the Boat Race?

I think the rivalry is pretty strong, in part because there are only two teams and only one opportunity to race. Each squad spends seven months preparing for this one race. If you lose, you have to wait a year before you can race again. If you're doing a one-year degree, as I am, you only have one shot to win. It's not like college, where we had raced all six of our competitors by the time we lined up at the IRA and were excited to make it to the medal dock. For the Boat Race, we haven't really gotten the chance to line up against Cambridge, and there is no prize for second place. It's what makes it so special and exciting.

Although the US and UK speak a common language, given the slight differences in culture - and even US/UK terminology - how easy is it to be part of an international crew?

You quickly learn that American English and British English are not the same language. For me, it became immediately apparent when I said something about needing to take off my pants, referring to my long spandex, and half the team burst out in laughter. Turns out, "pants" means something entirely different on this side of the Atlantic. There are some differences in rowing-specific terminology; boats here have stroke and bow sides, rather than port and starboard sides, respectively. But you can still have a bow-stroked boat. I contend the Americans are on the right side of this, along with the rest of the maritime community. Can you imagine the guys on the Titanic yelling, "iceberg off the bow bow?" Ridiculous. 

As an American, what do you enjoy about living and studying in the UK, and is there anything you miss about the USA whilst you're here?

Living and studying in Oxford is a dream. It's probably why Oxford is called the City of Dreaming Spires. Every day, I bike by beautiful buildings, many of which are hundreds of years older than the United States. I'm surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world, both in my classes, at the Oxford Union, and even at the adjacent table at the pub. I'll never get old of living in this magical place.

Still, I miss the US and my family and friends, and am excited to return to San Francisco at the end of my degree. I also miss American peanut butter. In my experience, it's a pillar of any good rower's diet, and I don't know what it is, but they just don't do it right over here.  

A big part of the Boat Race is its charitable donations - in particular to Cancer Research UK. How does it feel to take part in a sport you love whilst also being part of raising money for a great cause?

When I was nine, I started running in the Race for the Cure, a charity 5k that raises money for the Susan G Komen Foundation and Breast Cancer research. I love participating in sport while also supporting important causes, but I've found that such opportunities are rare in rowing. Cancer Research is a great organization that helps fund research of hundreds of different cancers. I think it's wonderful that Newton and BNY Mellon have donated the Boat Race to Cancer Research UK. 

How much of an accomplishment and a personal achievement is it for you to be part of the 2018 Boat Race? Is there a big sense of pride at representing the USA in your crew at the Boat Race?

The Boat Race is special for a lot of reasons. One of them is that it represents amateur sport at its best. Both boats that line up on March 24th are full of student-athletes who balance rigorous academics with twice-a-day training just for the privilege  of racing on the Tideway. It's March Madness for rowing, but better, because it demonstrates that a bunch of nerds can be phenomenal athletes, too. I'm also extremely proud to represent the USA in the Boat Race, even if our coach jokingly calls us the "troublesome colonials." Between the two Blue Boats, there are four alums of D1 programs in the US, which I think speaks to the strength of women's collegiate rowing programs in the US. 

Find out about more of the Americans competing in this year's Boat Race below:

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