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Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race crews prepare to face on E.coli from sewage in the Thames today – after their preparations were hit by FLOODING

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Oxford and Cambridge rowers prepared for the historic boast race on the quiet E.coli-ridden river Thames this morning after Oxford revealed they had lost key training time due to flooding.

The racers from the UK’s top universities gently rowed along the river in Putney as they prepared to go head-on in their annual heart-racing battle on Saturday.

But Oxford’s athletes will likely have more than winning the title on their minds, as their training took a huge blow after their Wallingford headquarters was thwarted by flooding.

Unlike Cambridge, who have been able to paddle to their heart’s content in dry training base in Ely, East Anglia, Oxford base has been impacted by wet weather for the last six months.

‘The weather has been pretty terrible this year,’ Oxford rower Harry Glenister told The Telegraph: ‘Cambridge think that’s a disadvantage for us.’

Oxford and Cambridge rowers train on the E.coli ridden Thames this morning as they prepare to go head-to-head in their annual historic boat race (pictured)

Oxford and Cambridge rowers train on the E.coli ridden Thames this morning as they prepare to go head-to-head in their annual historic boat race (pictured)

But E.coli concerns and winning the illustrious title won't be the only thing on Oxford athletes mind as their training has been impacted by flooding for the last six months

But E.coli concerns and winning the illustrious title won’t be the only thing on Oxford athletes mind as their training has been impacted by flooding for the last six months

He added: ‘Because Cambridge can row on any conditions. At Wallingford we can’t actually row so we had to go to Caversham.’

The base of British Rowing is located in the sleepy Reading suburb of Caversham is over an hour drive for the Oxford athletes – in comparison to the 30 or 40 minute drive to Wallingford.

‘I wouldn’t say it’s not a problem,’ Oxford coach Sean Bowden told Telegraph Sport. 

‘It’s another hour on the bus per day, so that’s time that puts them [the crew] under pressure for studying, recovery.’

Explaining the river conditions had been bad for the last two years, the coach divulged that their Wallingford boathouse was submerged a metre-deep in water due to floods.

When the river eventually unflooded it froze over, according to the coach who has been with the Oxford team in various roles since 1993. 

He said at times it felt like the team was being ‘thwarted’ by the soggy weather conditions.

Oxford’s difficult journey to the historic rowing race comes after scientists warned all the rowers to be mindful of high levels of E-coli detected in the stretch of river used for the world-famous boat race. 

Scientists urged them to ‘take care not to swallow river water’ and to cover any cuts to avoid serious infection from the river.

The bacteria, which can cause serious infections, was discovered during regular testing by River Action and the Fulham Reach Boat Club between February 28 and March 26, using a World Health Organisation-verified E.coli analyser. 

Unlike Cambridge, who have been able to paddle to their heart's content in dry training base in Ely, East Anglia, Oxford base has been impacted by wet weather for the last six months

Unlike Cambridge, who have been able to paddle to their heart’s content in dry training base in Ely, East Anglia, Oxford base has been impacted by wet weather for the last six months 

The Oxford team had to travel an hour to Reading for training - nearly double the 30 minute journey to their Wallingford base which has seen floods submerge their boathouse in a metre of water

The Oxford team had to travel an hour to Reading for training – nearly double the 30 minute journey to their Wallingford base which has seen floods submerge their boathouse in a metre of water

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.

WHAT TIME ARE  THE OXFORD-CAMBRIDGE BOAT RACES?

12.40pm – Women’s Boat Race coin toss

1.15pm – Men’s Boat Race coin toss

2.46pm – Women’s Boat Race

3.01pm – Osiris v Blondie Boat Race (women’s reserve crews)

3.16pm – Isis v Goldie Boat Race (men’s reserve crews)

3.46pm – Men’s Boat Race

The E.coli level should be below 1,000 CFU per 100ml to fall in line with the Environment Agency’s inland bathing water quality standards.

River Action said the highest level it recorded was 9,801 CFU per 100ml, meaning it was nearly 10 times higher than levels found in bathing waters graded as ‘poor’ by Environment Agency standards.

Government advice indicates that people should avoid being submerged in a water of this grade – which is the lowest. 

It is believed the pollution in the river is from Thames water discharging sewage straight into the river, according to River Action.

This is based on publicly available data which showed that the water company had discharged sewage into the Greater London area of the River Thames for 1,914 hours from the start of 2024 up to March 26. This is equivalent to 79 out of the 85 days.

Following the findings, both British Rowing and River Action released new guidance for rowing clubs dotted throughout the UK on how they can safely row in polluted bodies of water.  

This advice has been included in the Gemini Boat Race briefing packs to both universities.

This comes after scientists urged rowers to 'take care not to swallow river water' and to cover any cuts to avoid serious infection from the Thames river due to high levels of E.coli (pictured: Thames at low tide in Putney, London)

This comes after scientists urged rowers to ‘take care not to swallow river water’ and to cover any cuts to avoid serious infection from the Thames river due to high levels of E.coli (pictured: Thames at low tide in Putney, London)

It is believed the pollution in the river is from Thames water discharging sewage straight into the river, according to River Action (pictured: Thames at low tide in Putney, London)

It is believed the pollution in the river is from Thames water discharging sewage straight into the river, according to River Action (pictured: Thames at low tide in Putney, London)

Rowers are advised on the importance of covering cuts, grazes and blisters with waterproof dressings, taking care not to swallow river water that splashes close to the mouth, wearing suitable footwear when launching or recovering a boat, and cleaning all equipment thoroughly.

River Action chief executive James Wallace said: ‘We are in a tragic situation when elite athletes are issued with health guidance ahead of a historic race on the capital’s river.

‘Our water quality results show what happens after decades of neglect by an unregulated water company, Thames Water.’

Conservationists, rowers and communities alike are teaming up to urge the Government to enforce the law and ensure polluters face legal punishment.

‘Everyone should be able to enjoy our rivers and seas without risking their health,’ Mr Wallace said.



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