|Years||1987 World Championships (Lt 1x 6th)
1988 World Championships (Lt 2x 3rd)
1989 World Championships (Lt 1x 10th)
|Clubs||Bangor University BC, Circolo Canottieri Aniene, Circolo Canottieri Roma|
|Height||5’9″ or 175 cm|
The photo at the top of this page shows Caroline at the World Championships in Copenhagen in 1987 and is © John Shore.
Getting into rowing
Having deciding that rowing looked like fun after watching the Boat Race with her older brother, who studied at Cambridge, Caroline took it up herself when she went to the University of North Wales at Bangor to study English and Italian. “It was the most Spartan environment,” she remembers. “The boathouse was just a shed and we rowed on the Menai Straights between Anglesey and the mainland. There were jagged rocks and thick weed that we’d wade through in wellies to boat. Every so often we’d get an oil tanker going past which would create enormous waves and we’d have to rush back in and lift the boats out of the water to avoid being sunk. But it was lovely – there was a really nice group who were very keen and I really got into rowing, made a lot of friends, and we did all the local and university regattas.”
During her second year, she remembers, “There were some talent spotters going around the university clubs, and they said I looked quite good, but I explained I was about to go to Italy for the third year of my course, so they told me to get in touch with [the coaching guru] Thor Nielsen who was coaching there at the time. Which I did, and he told me to go to Rome instead of Sienna where most of my classmates were going.”
Having only rowed in fours in Bangor, she made the switch to sculling in Rome, partly because the Italians were much more into sculling than sweep rowing, and also because she was the only woman at the club she joined.
“The Italian rowing federation sent me to an incredible club called Circolo Canottieri Aniene in Rome which is a very elegant club for wealthy businessmen which had access to the river on the basis that they had a competitive rowing team. The facilities were – and still are – fantastic, especially after Bangor. There was a professional coach (which was rare in those days), we had all the best possible equipment, and we seemed to stay in five-star hotels when we went away to race and ate in Michelin restaurants. So I had a really fun year then, and as soon as I finished my degree in Bangor the following year, I went straight back to Rome.”
Most of her training companions in Italy were junior boys, and she believes that the fact that she was always training with men helped her to get really fit.
International rowing career
In 1986 she travelled with the Italian team to Nottinghamshire International Regatta, where she finished six seconds behind Beryl Crockford in the lightweight single sculls, although both were beaten by the selected Belgian lightweight sculler. Her connection with the British team came through Thor Nielsen, whom GB’s Director of International Rowing Penny Chuter describes as her main coaching mentor, and after performing well on the water and in an ergo test, she was selected as the British lightweight sculler for the World Championships in 1987.
During the 1987 season, Caroline started dating her coach, Riccardo Dezi, and she remembers that they had a lot of fun going to all of the early-season international regattas around Europe together. The 1987 World Championships in Copenhagen turned into a farce, though, ruined by terrible and unfair conditions during the finals. “I almost decided to give up after that,” she says, “But then Bill Mason [who was in charge of the GB women’s lightweights in 1988] phoned up out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you try a double?,'” which she did, winning the bronze medal at the 1988 World Championships in the lightweight doubles with Gill Bond, who described her in Rowing magazine as “naturally talented.”
Full accounts of Caroline’s years rowing for GB can be read here:
Gill Bond was unable to compete in 1989 after having had back surgery, and Caroline returned to the lightweight single, but this time didn’t make the main final and finished tenth. “By then Riccardo and I had got married and I think my priorities were different,” She says. “I remember this distinct change from being coached by your boyfriend to being coached by your husband. I think I was looking for more sympathy from my husband, and I’d lost the spark. After that I didn’t really try to row internationally again, although a couple of years later I did a lightweight women’s four for Italy for a while because by then I’d got Italian citizenship. We came third at Lucerne but we weren’t selected to go to the World Championships and I didn’t try again after that.'”
The rowing photographer Peter Spurrier took this picture of her training with Carrie Wood in late 1987.
Representing Concept 2 in Italy
In 1998, when Caroline was on maternity leave with her third child, she got another out of the blue contact, this time a letter from John Wilson, who was in charge of the ergo manufacturer’s Concept 2 arm in Nottingham. “He said, ‘I don’t know what you do, but I remember you from the World Championships in Copenhagen, and we’re looking for a distributor in Italy who has a background in rowing and who speaks English and Italian.’ At the time Riccardo had started an initiative where he went into schools with indoor rowers to promote rowing so it all fitted together, and we became the Italian distributors for Concept 2.”
From Concept to concert
From 2015, Caroline stepped back a bit from her indoor rowing work to study cello at the conservatoire in Rome. “I have been really struck by the similarity between rowing and music,” she reflects. “It’s requires exactly the same kind of training: you’ve got your long distance and your scales, your sprints, the change of pace, the emotion before your concerts, and also feeling the vibrations on the water and when you’re playing. Above all the discipline is the same, the total discipline, and how it kind of takes over your life; I haven’t been able to do any gardening because I had to take care of my hands, like when you’re racing you can’t sit in the sun. And it’s given me a huge new respect for musicians, because even though they don’t need the super strength and cardio-vascular fitness, they follow exactly the same type of training regime, mentally and physically as rowers.”
Caroline is extremely proud that her niece is Emily Craig is part of the British lightweight rowing team.
© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2019.