Clare Bayles (née Grove)

Years 1974 World Championships (4+ 11th)
1975 World Championships (4+ 9th)
1976 Olympic Games (4+ 8th)
1979 World Championships (8o 9th)
Clubs Civil Service Ladies RC, Thames Tradesmen’s RC
Height 5’6.5″ or 169 cm
Racing weight 10 stone or 64 kg
Born 1953

The photo at the top of this page shows Clare in the two seat (second from the right) of the 1975 GB women’s coxed four. (Photo © Syd Burke.)

Getting into rowing

Clare started rowing in the summer of 1971 when she was in the sixth form. Her school, St Mark’s, Fulham, had an arrangement with Barn Elms Boathouse as did many others in the area at the time. She quickly got very into it:

The very first day I went down, one of the people in charge there, Bob Dowson, who was also the boatman at Civil Service Ladies RC, said to me. ‘I’m going to send you out in a single because you’re going to be good,’ and I said, ‘Hang on a minute, I’ve never rowed!’ So obviously that didn’t happen and we went on the tank but a very short time later he took me up to Civil Service and so I rowed there as a schoolgirl.

Then, because I have a November birthday, I couldn’t row with the school crew when it came to the first set of the National Championships because I was too old to row as a junior. However, I was just really lucky one of the girls Civil Service second crew was an air hostess who had taken a week off n the run up to the Nationals, but the race was on the Sunday and she was back at work. And so they put me in! And so just over a year from starting rowing, I won a bronze medal at the Nationals.

And then the following year, 1973, I got into the first crew and we won the Nationals [beating St George’s, which was stroked by Beryl Mitchell], and then after that the GB squad started. I was very lucky – in the right place at the right time.

International career

Full details of the Clare’s international representation at the 1974, 1975 and 1979 World Championships and 1976 Olympic Games can be found here:

1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1979

1974-Nat Champs 4+

Clare in the stroke seat of the GB women’s coxed four waiting to be presented with their gold medals at the National Championships in 1974. (Photo: Maggie Phillips’ personal collection.)

“When we came back from Montreal in 1976, I did start off training for the next season,” she explains, “But because I was at college down in Dartford, I was doing most of my training down there, and only rowing at the weekends with the squad. It got to just before Christmas and I was really struggling but I didn’t know why. I was also getting married in April 1977 [her husband, Andrew Bayles, rowed in the GB eight at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics] and so I decided to knock it on the head for that year and I missed out 1977.”

Much later, she realised that the reason why she’d been so tired in the autumn of 1976 was that she was having her first Multiple Sclerosis relapse. “When I came back from the Olympics, I wasn’t well and my doctor referred me to a specialist but the appointment was when I on teaching practice. I’d already missed some of my teaching practice the year before because I was at the Olympics so I didn’t go to that appointment. As I didn’t know I had MS I carried on rowing for another four years after that.”

In 1978, Clare was cut from the squad in late February or early March, although she feels that this was not justified based on her results in the seat racing up to that point. Still eager to race and prove herself, she and three other former internationals – Jean Genchi, Chris Grimes and Yvonne Earl – formed a separate four with the aim of trying to beat the squad crew. In order to get a boat, they joined Thames Tradesmen’s RC and were the club’s first female members. The crew had a series of epic battles with the official four at various regattas and trials races throughout the summer. In the end, the Selectors decided not to send a four to the World Championships in New Zealand that year at all.

This was obviously a frustrating experience, “But I didn’t really learn because I then went back into the squad again in 1979, rowing in the eight at the World Championships in Bled. I wasn’t at all happy with some of the things that were going on during the year,” she says, wryly.

As a result, when the 1980 season came around, “A group of us decided that we would do a four, outside the squad but then one of the girls dropped out so it didn’t happen and I went into a pair with Yvonne Earl.”

“We weren’t in the main sweep squad because I chose not to be, she continues. “We wanted to do a pair and to start off with they included us in the squad and let us do that but then they started just being really unreasonable. For instance, they didn’t tell us that we had to go to a particular head race until two days before and we were in the middle of a really hard week. So we didn’t go to that, and then they said they’d to stop our Sports Aid Foundation grants, so we said, ‘OK,’ but it was just one thing after another. Then they asked us to go for a training session with the squad up at Paddington, and that was fine – we were quite happy to go – but it just so happened that I had a flu-type virus so I couldn’t go although Yvonne went. I had no way of telling them I was ill, but I didn’t think any more about it. Much later I heard that, not long after the session when I didn’t turn up, Dan told the rest of the squad that I would never row for GB again. I didn’t know that at the time and I took the decision to retire from competitive rowing independently. I had just had enough of the politics.”

Although Yvonne and Clare were entered in the first of the early season international regattas in 1980, the project came to an end after that. It was a regrettable way for such  a pioneering rowing career to come to a close.

Coaching career

By this time Clare was working as a PE teacher, and once she was no longer doing international levels of training herself she turned her attention to coaching a girls’ crew from her school that was rowing out of Barn Elms, where she herself had started rowing. “I took them up to Tradesmen as well and they were the first junior women at the club. They did quite well even though they were rather small,” she remembers.

After Clare had taken them on they won the bronze in the Women’s Junior Coxed Fours at the National Championships in 1982, and the silver medals in both the Women’s Junior Coxed Fours and Women’s Junior Eights in 1983. The four then went on to represent the South of England in the England/France International, and the following year, two of the girls from the eight were selected and competed in the eight at the Junior World Championships.

“I felt at the time that I was doing the right thing by passing on a little bit to other people,” she says, “And then I did that with further successes up until I had my first baby in 1985.”

Looking back

Taking her whole international career as a whole, Clare says that in some ways the high point was the coxed four she did in 1975 with Gill Webb, Lin Clark and Beryl Mitchell, coxed by Pauline Wright. “I just felt we were on the verge of something then and I was quite disappointed when Lin and Beryl moved into the pair for the Montreal Olympics the next year.”

For many years she didn’t talk about having been to the Olympics at all to people outside the rowing world. “I really enjoyed being selected for the Olympics but I think I just took the fact that we’d been there for granted and I never even mentioned it to my colleagues at school and it was only towards the end of my teaching career it kind of came out. I suppose it was because London was building up to the 2012 Games and so people started making such a fuss and it just seemed to so weird to me! It’s just something that happened, and to me the Olympics was the same as every World Championships, it was just another event.”

Clare Bayles, Gill Parker, Pauline Wright

Clare (left) with her 1975 and 1976 crewmates Gill Parker and cox Pauline Wright at Henley Royal Regatta in 2017 following the memorial row-past for Beryl Mitchell.

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