In the last 30+ years of competing in rowing and skiff races I’ve won a few trophies: apart from medals, there have been pewter pots (pint, half pint and even quart, with and without lids), glass pots, wine glasses, brandy balloons (York Regatta, yay!), whisky tumblers (no more use to me for their intended purpose than brandy balloons but it’s the thought that counts), a coffee mug, various examples of cooling towers expressed in the medium of pottery, and a cuddly stork. A few weeks ago I even got a hip flask (an amusing special for Masters crews at the Head the Trent).
But all this diversity is nothing compared with what prizes used to be, especially in the formative years of women’s events.
The River and Rowing Museum’s collection includes a silver shoehorn, the prize for the women’s double sculls at Sonning Regatta in 1905. At the St George’s Scratch Eights in 1956 the winners got the usual pewter tankards but the losing finallists were presented with fruit knives. It’s entertaining just imagining how that committee meeting went.
Barbara Kaye, a bronze medallist at the first Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1954, who was a member of Stuart Ladies RC (one of the clubs which later formed Lea RC), remembers winning a set of spoons, glass bowls and compacts, while her younger clubmate Gill Parker, who raced at the 1976 Olympic Games, was awarded an umbrella on one occasion. She was certainly home and dry with that one.
Frances Bigg, who represented GB at the Women’s European Championships in 1960 and 1962, was variously presented with a hairbrush set and a biscuit barrel, while 1980 Olympian Nicola Burbidge‘s trophy collection rather alarmingly includes an ashtray, which was also apparently the trophy of choice at Willesden Regatta, a key event for women’s crews in the 1960s.
What all these obviously have in common is that they’re household objects, which appears to be deeply patronising, although I have no information about whether men were ever presented with cutlery or personal grooming items. However, considered in the context of the time when disposable income was scarce and stuff like this was a lot more expensive (fashioned as it was in UK factories and workshops), they were probably well-intended, appreciated and used. After all, there are only so many pen holders anyone needs…
More recently, winners at the DAF Power Sprints in the late 1980s, like 1984 Olympic cox Kathy Long won towels, while erg stars like 2002 lightweight World Champion Naomi Ashcroft are presented with hammers* at the Crash-B Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston.
* The reason why this event awards hammers seems to have been lost over the years, though readers may know more than me. If so, do tell!
Perhaps my favourite crazy trophy, though, not least because if its utter disregard for health and safety, was the sword awarded to the winners of J15 eights (yes, as in teenage boys) at Richmond Regatta in 1980 and thereabouts because the event was sponsored by Wikinson’s Sword.
As a regatta secretary, I know that pots cost around £10. While the first few you win are certainly cherished, now that I’m into my fourth decade of racing, I’m up for some alternatives and for a tenner, events have quite a lot of scope for self-expression in this department. The wackier the better, I say!