Third victory means more than Facebook win to twins

THE founder of Facebook knows all about the determination of Oxford's Olympic rowers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss after engaging them in a six-year legal battle.

Today, the American twins will direct that zeal towards Cambridge in the hope of propelling the Dark Blues to a third straight victory in the Xchanging Boat Race. In 2008, the Winklevoss brothers won a reported 43million after suing former university colleague Mark Zuckerberg for stealing their idea for a social networking site. The brothers this week revealed their campaign for "truth" is not yet over, claiming the fight will continue for "as long as we feel there is still something to correct". The Facebook story has provided the Oxford crew with some priceless banter material over the long, brutal months of preparation for the race.

But all the millions in the bank count for nothing in the eyes of Oxford's hard-nosed coach Sean Bowden. And in the Winklevoss twins, Bowden has two Olympians whose drive for success has not been dampened one iota by their swollen bank accounts.

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"We are students here trying to row in the blue boat," said Tyler Winklevoss. "Pretty much everybody is on Facebook so it naturally comes up and it is a source of banter – but we are all very much team-mates and we spend a lot of time rowing. I definitely understand and recognise why people are interested. It is one part of who we are – but it is minor to the task at hand."

That task is sealing a hat-trick of Oxford victories and extending the Dark Blues' dominance on the Tideway to eight wins in 11 years. The Winklevoss brothers have plenty of big-race experience. Twice American champions, they finished sixth in the men's pair at the Beijing Olympics. But the Boat Race is a completely different challenge.

Both brothers are doing an MBA – their entrepreneurial desires burn as strongly as their rowing ambitions – and had exams only last week.

"The MBA made sense for us. We wanted to gain a broader base of business knowledge," Tyler added. "Our hearts are in entrepreneurial start-ups and that will come – but we both wanted to row and compete in the Boat Race. It is certainly a unique experience to be able to study at a high level and compete at a high level. You will be pulled in many directions and it is a matter of managing it.

"The Tideway is a very different body of water. In America you hear people complain that the Charles River gets rough and is nothing like the Olympics. But when you see the Tideway you realise they have nothing to complain about! It throws something at you and humans, as they will, persevere to get past it. That is the challenge of the Boat Race."

Meanwhile, Cambridge coach Chris Nilsson is in no doubt about the mental toughness of his crew after their dedication impressed even the Royal Marines.

Nilsson launched the Light Blues' preparations by sending his rowers on a brutal 48-hour commando training course in Devon last September. And he is confident that if today's race comes down to a battle of wills then Cambridge will not be broken.

"It was a very good experience because mental toughness is the race. Both crews are of similar ability, similar weight and they come from similar backgrounds," said Nilsson. "It is who lines up on the start line with the mental aptitude. The mental preparation is the largest part of the equation. The Marines certainly put the guys through their paces in no uncertain terms, with sleep deprivation and physical challenges. Their heads were virtually buried in mud for the whole 48 hours. They had been given new boots from the army so had to deal with huge blisters the whole way through. The Marines kept them moving and were impressed by their stickability.

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"When I was coaching the American team we took them to the Navy SEALS base in San Diego. This was back in 2001 and the guys that went still speak of it. So when it was suggested we go to the Royal Marines I was right up for it – but I didn't expect the course would far, far exceed the brutality of the American day."

Cambridge were beaten in last year's race – Nilsson's first as head coach – after an unconvincing push at Hammersmith failed to shake off Oxford.

It was a strong lesson for Nilsson, who had joined the previous December from the New Zealand national team and put Cambridge through a punishing elite training schedule – a mistake, he now acknowledges.

But Nilsson learned from last year's experience that Cambridge had to build an unbreakable bond, hence the call to the Marines.

"I came from an international programme with New Zealand and expected the same at Cambridge but I drove the guys too hard," said Nilsson. "They are students and have lots of academic work to get done You just have to temper that. Those 48 hours with the Marines was great for their team building and they learnt how to stick together and get through some tough situations."

There is no tougher situation than the Boat Race's gruelling and choppy four-and-a-quarter mile course from Putney to Mortlake.