LONDON (AP) — American rower Derek Rasmussen will put Olympic dreams aside when he attempts to lead Cambridge to a second straight win over Oxford in the Boat Race, one of England’s oldest and most prestigious sporting events.
Rasmussen, of Darnestown, Md., was part of the Cambridge crew that produced a late burst last year to win one of the most exciting races in decades. The victory extended Cambridge’s lead to 80-75 in a rivalry between the two famous English universities that dates back to 1829.
Twelve months later, the 25-year-old Rasmussen — who is in his second and final year as an economics student at Cambridge — is the president of the Light Blues, charged with the task of retaining the title Saturday when the old foes compete in the annual 4.2-mile race on the River Thames.
Rasmussen, who still has final exams to worry about, said the race has been “at the forefront of my mind all year — it’s all I can think about.”
Cambridge is regarded as the slight favorite this weekend, which should see calm conditions on the Thames. Up to 250,000 spectators are expected to line the river bank from Putney to Mortlake.
“That seems to be the consensus in the media but not in my mind,” Rasmussen. “We have to assume we are even or a bit behind. We know we have our work cut out.”
Rasmussen has a chance of securing a place on the U.S. rowing team for next year’s Olympics in London, if he opts to pursue a career in the sport. But that decision has been put on hold for the time being.
“The Olympics is something every rower dreams of and thinks about a lot,” Rasmussen told the Associated Press. “As for whether I actually go for it, I’ll decide that after this race. Right now, it’s not my priority.
“I have an outside chance of making it (the U.S. squad), if not a 100 percent chance by any means. But it’s a decision I can’t think about right now.”
Rasmussen has rowed for the U.S. before, winning the Under-23 title with the American eight at the 2008 World Championships. But he said international success doesn’t quite compare to the feeling of beating Oxford.
“There’s nothing like this,” he said. “I remember rowing for the U23s and it was a special thing to be wearing the flag on your chest. It was so cool. But this is different. It’s just a bit more involved. You invest so much time and energy into this.
“It’s six months of incredible intensity that I’ve never really experienced before. You’re so fixated on one opposition, you get more emotionally invested in this race. In international racing, it’s just about going out there and doing the best you can.”
Rasmussen is Cambridge’s second successive American president. He took over from Deaglan McEachern, a Portsmouth, N.H., native who worked on President Barack Obama’s election campaign before guiding the Light Blues to success in the 2010 Boat Race.
“We’ve chatted a lot. Deaglan’s been very helpful,” Rasmussen said. “It’s like a captain of a football team, but with an added managerial role. You’re not just there as a leader of morale, you’re also involved in the day-to-day running of the club and making decisions regarding funding and stuff like that.
“I helped pick the team. It was really tough. It creates this odd divide between you and your buddies, especially from the year before because then you had one relationship and now it’s just a little bit different.”
The Boat Race, a quintessentially English event, has had a growing international appeal in recent years. In 2010, only six of the 18 competitors held a British passport, with students from the U.S., Canada, Germany and the Netherlands participating.
This year, there are fewer foreign rowers in the teams — Oxford has a Swiss-born bowman, Moritz Hafner, while three Australians and a Canadian are alongside Rasmussen for Cambridge — but the global coverage will be just as widespread.
The 157th edition of the race will be broadcast in around 200 countries and will be screened live on BBC America, which organizers say could attract nearly 68 million viewers.
“The race is growing pretty quickly (in the U.S.), just like with rowing in general. You can see that especially with women’s rowing. It’s an NCAA sport and because of that, there’s a huge amount of interest pouring in and it’s absolutely blossoming,” said Rasmussen, whose parents are in southwest London to watch the race.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)