Astrid Ayling

Years 1971 European Championships (2x 3rd as West Germany)
1972 European Championships (2x 4th as West Germany)
1973 European Championships (2x 3rd as West Germany)
1974 World Championships (2x 2nd as West Germany)
1975 World Championships (2x 4th as West Germany)
1977 World Championships (2x 5th as GB from now on)
1978 World Championships (2x 7th)
1979 World Championships (2x 7th)
1980 Olympic Games (2x 7th)
1981 World Championships (2x 6th)
1982 World Championships (2x 9th)
1984 Olympic Games (8o 5th)
Clubs Koblenzer Rudergesellschaft, Koblenzer RC Rhenania, Kingston RC
Height 5’9.5″ or 177 cm
Racing weight 11 stone 8 lb or 75 kg
Born 1951

The photo at the top of this page shows Astrid (right) with her 1980-1981 doubles partner Sue McNuff. (Photo © John Shore.)

Getting into rowing

Astrid Hohl started sculling in her native Koblenz in West Germany when she was a teenager. “My older brother rowed and over dinner at home he would tell us about his rowing, and I felt that whatever he could do, I could do too, so I got interested. In Germany you started off in ‘wanderrudern’ boats [sometimes referred to as Explore boats nowadays in the UK] and then you progressed from there into racing boats.”

At that time her club, Koblenzer Rudergesellschaft, was based on a very short stretch of the Moselle between a weir and a lock, just before it joins the Rhine. “We were the kings of 500m as a result!,” she laughs. In 1971 the club merged with Koblenzer RC Rhehania, and moved to its boathouse a bit further up the Moselle, which had access to 20km of ideal rowing water.

The club had a solid training regime. “In Germany at that time, you had to take a little oath at the beginning of autumn if you were going to be in competitive group, to promise that you would train hard. And as I was the only girl at my club then who was doing the serious training, and I didn’t want to be a pain, so I tried to keep up with the men. I think it formed me and made me tough! But it was a lovely friendship group too, and our coach, Manfred ‘Manni’ Rost, was really good. I did an awful lot of cycling, weights, pull ups, a lot of strength work, a lot of jumps before I even went on the water, and in the winter you didn’t go on the water it was just too cold at the weekend we’d do 10k running in the forest, on the hills, or doing langlauf,” she explains.

International rowing career

Representing West Germany

After winning the single sculls at the German national championships in 1970 and 1971 in the single sculls, Astrid was selected to represent West Germany at the Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1971 in the double sculls with Bärbel Kornhass. “I’d actually been considered for selection in the single in 1970,” she recalls, “But the standard was really high in that, with the Eastern Europeans dominating it, and my parents said , ‘No,’ because they didn’t want me to do too much too soon and lose interest. They were probably right in hindsight!”

Astrid and Bärbel won a bronze in 1971. In 1972 she came fourth, again in the double, but this time sculling with Edith Baumann, and then for the next three years, Astrid raced with Regine Adam, winning bronze at the last Women’s European Championships in 1973, and then a silver at the first World Championships to include women’s events in 1974. In 1975 they finished fourth.

Regine had been taught to scull by her father, the legendary rowing coach Karl Adam, who was head of the Ratzeburg Rowing Academy, developed compressed technique, introduced interval training to rowing from athletics, and was the first coach to use tandem rigs.

Astrid and Regine

Astrid (left) and Regine Adam being presented with their medals at the World Championships in 1974, the rowing achievement of which Astrid says she is most proud. (Photo: rrk-online.de)

Representing Great Britain

Having met Richard Ayling on the international rowing circuit, Astrid hatched a plan to move to London, and both she Regine came over in the autumn of 1975, getting jobs as German teachers. Richard coached them for a bit in their double, and they started thinking about racing at the 1976 Olympic Games (for West Germany), but this plan came to nothing as Regine developed mental health problems and had to stop rowing for good.

As Astrid tells the story, “Because the option of rowing again with Regine had come to an end, Richard suggested we get married so I could row for Great Britain instead.” This might not have been his only reason for proposing, but they did indeed get married in 1976, and she went on to represent GB seven times over the next eight years in one of the longest international rowing careers, particularly of that era. In all but one of those years she rowed in the double scull first with Pauline Hart (1977-1979), then with Sue McNuff (1980-1981) and finally with Rosie Mayglothling (1982).

Pauline says that she was always impressed with Astrid insistence on dressing well when rowing; eschewing ugly kit, and sourcing pretty t-shirts with red sleeves instead of the usual striped vests when they were representing Kingston RC. “I remember seeing her and Regine in 1974 and 1975 when they were doubling as West Germany and I was racing for GB,” Pauline says, “And no matter how early in the morning the race was, the two of them would turn up on the start without a hair out of place, which certainly couldn’t be said for us.”

Astrid on an early ergometer

Astrid tries out a Gjessing ergo at the World Championships in Amsterdam in 1977. (Photo © Don Somner.)

Astrid raced in the invitation women’s double sculls events run at Henley Royal Regatta in 1981 and 1982, winning in 1982 with Rosie Mayglothling.

In 1983, the year she ‘missed out’, the GB sculling squad has been politely described by several people as “a bit of a mess,” with no one really organising it, various factions, and a wide range of ideas for doubles and quads, none of which were managed through to fruition. “I was happy to withdraw,” Astrid says about this, particularly as she spent quite a lot of that year travelling back to Germany as her father was ailing.

In 1984 she did one last year in the squad, but after 11 international seasons in the double scull, decided to try something totally different and joined the sweep group instead. “It’s easy stick with things that you like,” she says, “But when I did the eight, I thought, ‘Why didn’t I do this before?’ I loved it but I had to learn rowing which was a challenge. I had never rowed, so suddenly, I was in this little wobbly pair on the Tideway and had no confidence. But Alexa [Forbes] was very patient with me in the pair, and then we went into fours which I found more comfortable than the pair.” She rowed in the eight at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where Richard coached the women’s coxed four.

Astrid’s 1984 crewmate Kate Holroyd says, “We looked up to her because she was the elder statesman. She’d been there, she’d done it and we all benefited from her experience. She was also incredibly strong and incredibly fit and was a great person to have [at six in the eight]. I really believe that the fact that a lot of the reason we did quite well was down to her because she brought us all together.”

Throughout her GB rowing career Astrid worked for the Ayling family business which made oars, sculls and, later, boats, and also published Rowing magazine. The management was, of course, conveniently sympathetic to an international oarswoman’s training schedule.

Full accounts of Astrid’s years in the GB squad can be found here:

1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1984

The Aylings

Richard and Astrid Ayling at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. (Photo: Kathy Long’s personal collection.)

Later rowing

After the 1984 Olympics, Astrid continued training for a while but, as she says, “People were stopping, and it sort of fizzled out. I didn’t make a clear decision to stop rowing internationally, but my focus gradually changed.” She had the first of her three children in 1985.

In 1988 she came out of retirement to race at the DAF Power Sprints in a coxed four and then at Henley Women’s Regatta in a double with former international Belinda Holmes.

Astrid and Belinda

Astrid (left) and Belinda competing in the double sculls at the inaugural Henley Women’s Regatta in 1988, in an Aylings boat, of course. (Photo © John Shore.)

Astrid’s long international rowing career is clearly a source of many, many happy memories for her and she’s philosophical about the difficult times.