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Pushing the boat out to win spoils

There was a time, and not so long ago, was when rowing used to have a reputation in Britain on the same lines as Noel Coward, the Mitford clan and "Brideshead Revisited".

Bitter rivals prepare for showdown on the Dee
Bitter rivals prepare for showdown on the Dee

It is amazing what success at Olympic level and the emergence of truly iconic personalities such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Katherine Grainger can do. This weekend, Aberdeen will play host to the 19th staging of the annual showdown between the city's Robert Gordon University and Aberdeen University and the build-up has reflected how seriously these institutions regard this test of resolve out on the Dee. When they first locked horns, prior to the new millennium, AU could virtually take victory for granted, such was their domination and strength of personnel. Yet, in the intervening period, the gap has not just narrowed, but been slashed altogether. RGU triumphed in 2012, they won again by two-and-a-half lengths last spring, and will be confident of completing a hat trick of successes when the hostilities re-commence.

Gillian Paterson, the president of RGU's boating club, is a redoubtable competitor, somebody who views these contests as a chance for the respective crews to carve out their own little niche in history and she is bullish about her team's prospects.

"It is only my second appearance in the Boat Race, but I think we have the upper hand," said the 21-year-old forensics student. "We have already had a two-year winning streak and I am certain we can make it a hat trick. Local support means the world on race day and we are hoping we see everybody cheering us on dressed in our purple and black colours."

As one might expect, her opposite number, Lauren Cammaert, begs to differ. After all, the rowers of AU have passion, pride, technique and temperament in spades and their recent setbacks have accentuated their desire to regain the upper hand. It is not simply local bragging rights which are up for grabs, with several of the participants involved in various Scottish and GB squads and bidding to demonstrate that Katherine was not the lone Grainger from the granite metropolis capable of achieving an Olympic gold medal.

Nonetheless, Cammaert, a 23-year-old medical student, originally from Newfoundland in Canada, has adopted a surgical approach to her task. "This may be my first year as president, but it is my third year involved in the Boat Race, and I am determined that, through hard work and good camaraderie, I can lead my crew to victory," she said.

In the past, these high jinx on the river used to be the preserve of a small minority, but, bolstered by the sponsorship of Aberdeen Asset Management, who are helping lay on free buses to the event, and have splashed out on publicity, the tussle promises to be a nerve-shredding struggle between an abundance of gifted performers.

"I started off rowing, but soon decided that my petite frame was better suited to coxing," says Cammaert. "My mum rowed during her high school days and my dad did the same at college in Cambridge, so it definitely runs in the family. This is a fantastic student event, but don't be fooled, because the atmosphere is so intense it could easily pass for a professional competition."

On any given day, both sets of rivals possess ample skills and motivation to prevail over the 3.5km course from the Bridge of Dee to the Aberdeen Boat Club. But RGU have some rising stars in their ranks, including Iona Riley and Lewis McCue, both of whom have shone on the international stage, and they are hunting down another success.

It promises to be thrilling. And another sign of rowing's surge into the mainstream.

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