Scotland

Scotland's aquatic Old Firm prepare to do battle

rowing
Image caption The Glasgow team on an early morning training session on the river Clyde

It is certainly not the country's most famous sporting event but the Scottish Boat Race is one of the oldest.

The competition which takes place on the Clyde this weekend, between Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, was first staged 140 years ago.

It is the third oldest race of its kind in the world, just behind Oxford-Cambridge and the Yale-Harvard Regatta in the United States.

Preparing for the race means lots of early morning training sessions.

One such dawn chorus greeted the Glasgow University rowers as they arrived for their 06:45 session on the river Clyde by Glasgow Green.

Those taking part are students from a wide variety of courses but they are linked by a passion for rowing.

Image caption The Edinburgh team train at Scottish Rowing's facility at Strathclyde Park

The first Scottish boat race took place on the River Clyde in 1877.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow University rowing clubs were formed 10 years earlier than that, so it is a rivalry which is more than a decade older than that of football's Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers.

In an extraordinary winning streak Glasgow won every year between 2000 and 2012 but for the past four years Edinburgh has triumphed.

Image caption Glasgow 1st VIII captain Gavin Shields says his crew are working hard

Glasgow 1st VIII captain Gavin Shields says they have been working hard to regain their form.

He says: "We've had a really good few years of developing some guys coming straight from beginner level.

"It's definitely a work in progress. Edinburgh have have some really good results but it just makes us work harder to try to beat them."

Image caption Rebecca Vest is the cox of Glasgow's first VIII

Gavin is studying psychology but the person who really has to get inside the heads of the crew is the 1st VIII cox and French student Rebecca Vest.

She is the lone woman in the men's boat.

Rebecca says: "You are one of the team but you are also in charge.

"You have to make sure you have that respect which is earned throughout the year.

"Sometimes it's difficult and it might take some months before some people in your crew accept your role and trust you to do your job properly."

Image caption Stuart Mitchell is Glasgow University's club captain

Glasgow's Women's 1st VIII won their race last year and the university's club captain and chemistry student Stuart Mitchell says the men are on course to win again in the future.

He says: "People who take part in the sport are incredibly passionate about it and there's a lot of self starters in the club.

"I think the club is only going to get bigger and better."

Image caption Edinburgh has a few rising stars in its ranks

Meanwhile at Scottish Rowing's impressive facility at Strathclyde Park near Hamilton athletes from Edinburgh University arrive for their training session well aware there are quite a few rising stars among their ranks.

The standard is high, reflected in the recent selection of Maddie Arlett from the Women's 1st VIII for British Rowing's GB World Cup team.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Katherine Grainger (front) and Anna Watkins celebrate after winning the women's double sculls at London 2012

And of course another woman - five time Olympic medal winner Katherine Grainger - began her extraordinary rowing career while at Edinburgh.

Image caption Josh Armstrong has an ambition to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020

On the men's side Josh Armstrong, a first year sports management student, has a long term ambition to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

But in the more immediate future he is aiming to extend the winning streak of Edinburgh's 1st VIII over Glasgow from four years to five.

Josh says: "This is the first time I'm going to be competing in it so I'm really looking forward to it.

"The rivalry will be massive as both universities are in a really strong place just now.

"But I think we'll be looking to get the win and would be slightly disappointed if we didn't get that."

Image caption Edinburgh coach Colin Williamson puts their success down to hard work

Some rowers like Josh are part of the university's elite performance sport department but coach Colin Williamson, who heads up Performance Rowing, insists that is only part of the explanation for Edinburgh's recent success.

He says: "I don't really think there is a secret to it. We just put it down to hard work.

"The guys train very hard and they train very consistently.

"And with the good support services we have at Edinburgh, with our strength and conditioning and physio and Scottish Rowing and Sport Scotland, everything is there for the guys to reach their full potential."

Last year Glasgow's women beat Edinburgh and the crew from the east coast are determined to settle that score this time round.

Image caption Laura McDonald coxes Edinburgh women's 1st VIII

Medical student Laura McDonald who coxes Edinburgh women's 1st VIII says the team is a better unit than before.

She says: "I think there is a better bond within the crew this year.

"Last year people were frustrated and there seemed to be something missing. This year everyone is in it together."

The approaches of both teams to the sport might be slightly different but they match each other in their desire to win.

When they meet on the Clyde beside the Riverside Museum on Saturday they will bring with them 300 years of history as rowing clubs, not to mention 140 years of the Scottish boat race itself which is the third oldest in the world.

That is rather a lot of water under the bridge.