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Torpids is one of two bumping races held at Oxford University yearly, the other being Eights. Over 130 men's and women's crews race for their colleges in six men's divisions and five women's; almost 1200 participants in total. The racing takes place on the Isis (part of the River Thames) usually in the 7th week of Hilary term from Wednesday to Saturday (around the start of March).

Bumps racing evolved in Oxford as the river is too narrow for normal side by side racing. This led to racing in which competing crews start lined up with their coxes holding ropes attached to the bank with gaps of about 1.5 boat lengths between the bow of one boat and the stern of the one in front. Racing is started by the firing of a cannon.

Crews attempt to progress up their division by hitting ('bumping') the boat in front without being hit by the boat behind, with the ultimate aim of becoming "Head Of The River" i.e. top of the first division. Once a bump has taken place in Torpids, the crew that was hit has to continue racing whilst the bumping crew moves to the side. This can lead to a crew moving down many places during a day's racing. This is the principal difference between Torpids and Summer Eights, where both crews stop racing.

Each day's starting order is based on the previous day's finishing position, the same being true from year to year. A crew that bumps on every day without being bumped itself or that finishes at the Head of the River is awarded 'blades' - the right to get trophy oars painted up in their college colours with the names and weights of the successful crew emblazoned on them. Less sought after is the possibility of getting 'spoons', where the crew has been bumped on every single day. However, the most unusual possibility is 'spades', where the crew is bumped off the start, and then proceeds to bump the crew it is chasing, thus being both the bumper and the bumped in the same race. Only two boats have ever managed this feat on every day of the event.

The name 'Torpids' derives from the event's origins as a race for the second boats of the colleges, which were naturally slower than the first boats. Now, as many boats as a college can put out may enter, although crews in the last two divisions and crews without a position have to qualify to race by competing in a timed race the preceding Friday, known as 'rowing on'. In 2008, Pembroke College Boat Club had more boats on the river than any other, with four men's and three women's boats qualifying for the event.

Rowers competing in that year's Boat Race or any of the Henley Boat Races against Cambridge may not compete in Torpids, but may compete in Summer Eights.

Men's Head of Torpids from 1960

1960 St. Edmund Hall 1961 St. John's 1962 St. Edmund Hall 1963 No Racing
1964 St. Edmund Hall 1965 St. Edmund Hall 1966 St. Edmund Hall 1967 St. John's
1968 Balliol 1969 Balliol 1970 Balliol 1971 Balliol
1972 Oriel 1973 Oriel 1974 Oriel 1975 Oriel
1976 Oriel 1977 No Racing 1978 Oriel 1979 Oriel
1980 Oriel 1981 Oriel 1982 Oriel 1983 Oriel
1984 Oriel 1985 Oriel 1986 Oriel 1987 Oriel
1988 Oriel 1989 Oriel 1990 Oriel 1991 Christ Church
1992 Oriel 1993 Oriel 1994 Oriel 1995 Oriel
1996 Oriel 1997 Oriel 1998 Oriel 1999 Pembroke
2000 No Racing 2001 Oriel 2002 No Racing 2003 Oriel
2004 Oriel 2005 Oriel 2006 Oriel 2007 No Racing
2008 Magdalen

  • In 1986, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2003, racing was held on fewer than four days
  • In 1991, Oriel were penalty bumped four places for training while the river was in flood.

Women's Head of Torpids from 1992

1992 Somerville 1993 Somerville 1994 Somerville 1995 Osler-Green
1996 Osler-Green 1997 Osler-Green 1998 Osler-Green 1999 Osler-Green
2000 No Racing 2001 St. Catherine's 2002 No Racing 2003 Merton
2004 Merton 2005 New College 2006 Oriel 2007 No Racing
2008 St. Catherine's

Double Headship

The 'Double Headship' is an accolade awarded to any college finishing with both their men's and women's crews at the 'Head of the River' in their respective divisions. Oriel College is the only college to have achieved a Double Headship in Torpids, having both men's and women's crews at the Head of the River in 2006.

See also

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