Diana is on the left in the picture at the top of this page of the coxed four that represented Great Britain at the 1976 Olympic games. (Photo © Syd Burke.)
|Years||1972 (1x 10th)
1975 (1x 12th)
1976 (4+ 8th)
|Clubs||Trevelyan College BC, Durham ARC, Wallingford RC|
|Height||5’5″ or 165cm|
|Racing weight||9 stone 2 lb or 58kg (“This was deemed insufficient and I made a massive effort to eat lots of meat and drink gallons of milk to try to get up to 60kg, which I managed for about five minutes,” Diana says.)|
Diana is known as ‘Dink’ by everyone who was involved in the GB women’s squad in the 1970s, a nickname she acquired from her brothers. In the interests of sounding at least reasonably respectably formal here, this article refers to her as Diana.
A collection of firsts
Diana’s rowing life includes a considerable collection of firsts and although no particular meaning can be attached to these achievements, it does reflect the environment at the time where a lot of things required steps into the unknown and the establishment of a foundation on which others could build later.
- In first intake to Trevelyan College at Durham University (1966).
- Rowed for Durham University Women’s BC in its first year (1967).
- First women to gain a rowing palatinate – Durham’s equivalent of a blue (1968).
- First international from Durham Amateur RC (1972).
- Competed in the first Head of the River Fours that contained a women’s division (1974), racing as Thames RC. Strictly speaking this was the Women’s ARC Fours Head which took place as the final division of the Head of the River Fours.
- Won the first women’s division of the Scullers Head (1975).
- Rowed in the first women’s rowing race at an Olympic Games – at Montreal in 1976.
She is also the only woman who competed at both the ‘old’ Women’s European Rowing Championships which ran from 1954-1973 and the World Rowing Championships and Olympic Games which superseded them.
Getting into rowing
Having not been at all enthusiastic about sport at school, Diana took up rowing when she went to to Durham University in 1966. Her motivations for doing so included having enjoyed watching the boat race as a child with her father; the fact that her cousin John, who was a year ahead of her at Durham, was rowing and enjoying it; and that, “This is what all the public schoolboys do!”
As her college – Trevelyan – was brand new, it didn’t have a boathouse, boats or even an established club but, “A nice young blond man from St John’s theological college came to talk to us in Freshers Week and invited us to learn to row, using their facilities on a Wednesday afternoon,” she recalls, adding that, “When he was busy with finals in the summer term, another nice young man took over the coaching, one Tom Bishop.” Tom and Diana married in 1973.
Getting back to the rowing. after her first year in a college coxed four, she then formed a university women’s eight (including the politician Mo Mowlem; “She only did it for a term for her CV,” Diana says) and coxed four which was coached by the stroke of the university men’s first eight, John Appleby (hopefully this was feasible because of the low volume of training done then, even by men, rather than any neglect of his studies). Most of the other rowers came from St Hild’s College, which was the PE college and “the mainstay of women’s rowing up there” at the time, according to Diana.
The new Durham University Women’s BC crews competed at the University Women’s Rowing Association regatta in Monmouth where Diana won in her single and the four won the Style Cup as well as the University race, although she thinks they were beaten in the open event by United Universities. While this loss was disappointing at the time, it led to a lot more; “At that regatta I first met the crew from United Universities which included Pauline Churcher and Jean Rankine,” she explains. “And it was they who said, ‘Well, when you come down to London, look us up.’ And they were the ones who got me into international rowing.”
Diana had a lightweight single scull built for her in 1970 by Bill Colley, which cost £210 and was called Choufleur. She still remembers a Durham University oarsman – who went on to row for GB as a lightweight before having an extensive coaching career all over the world – standing on the landing stage at Durham and commenting, “A bigger waste of money I haven’t seen for a long time,” when she first went out in it. “Well, he was proved wrong!” she adds.
Both racing and training was limited in scope. “I did take my boat places,” she remembers, “But I think I had a mini at the time which wasn’t great for taking a long sculling boat! And I don’t think I did any land training. Certainly no gym training. I don’t know where the gym is in Durham!”
Part 1: Women’s European Championships
Staying on in Durham after finishing her degree, Diana joined Durham ARC where she mostly trained in her single and was coached by the successful Durham School coach David Bland. Lacking other women to train with or against, she used to make “financially crippling” trips to London about once a month to do quads and doubles with Jean Rankine.
In 1972 she worked hard on her single sculling and won the Senior Sculls at the Women’s ARC Sculls Regatta in early July, beating Jean in the final.
A couple of weeks later she raced again at the National Championships. “I was determined to get the gold medal for the Nationals and I psyched myself up for this but came third, losing to Margaret Gladden and Christine Davies respectively.” Margaret and Christine were selected – for the second time – as the double for the Women’s European Championships and Diana went as the single sculler.
A full report of her experiences at the 1972 Championships in Brandenburg can be found here.
Then and now
Looking back at her racing during this era, Diana is painfully aware of how inadequately prepared they were. “The thing that was different, I think, was that now you are trained so that you know that you can do the course. You know that you can get from start to finish and this and this and this is going to happen. And you can do it. I think when I was racing, I used to think, ‘Gosh, I’ve got to the end! How wonderful!’ Then it was, ‘Am I going to get to the end? Am I going to blow up? Am I going to have a weak part in the middle?’ But nowadays they KNOW that they’re not. They know they’ve done the training so the psychological confidence is absolutely there now, and it wasn’t for us. There was no element of psychological training then.”
Part 2: World Championships and Olympic Games
After moving to Wallingford when she and Tom married in late 1973, Diana didn’t initially get involved with the GB women’s squad which Penny Chuter formed was forming for the 1974 World Championships – the first that included women [a ‘first’ that’s missing from her collection! – Ed.] But the GB women’s lowly results that summer motivated her to step her training up again; “I thought, ‘I can do better than that!’ so at the end of 1974 I went back to rowing and turned up at the winter training and we had a nice time going out in eights and things. I love rowing eights!”
Throughout her two years in squad she continued to be based in Wallingford, and when she wasn’t doing a 100 mile round trip to train out of the Amateur Rowing Association boathouse in Hammersmith in crew boats, she often trained on her own. Although the Wallingford stretch is one of the finest on the Thames for rowing – long and wide – overall, this setup was tremendously hard, even for someone who liked single sculling, and whom Penny describes as, “Very motivated.” In the 1976 season she also gave up work to focus on her training. Her single-mindedness paid off as she won the women’s division of the scullers head in 1975 and 1976 as well as achieving international selection.
Diana was selected as the GB single sculler at the World Championships in Nottingham in 1975, and rowed at bow in the coxed four at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. “I essentially did two years of training for the Olympics which is nonsense, really, absolute nonsense!” she laughs.
Full reports of her experiences of representing GB can be found here:
Her husband Tom also competed at the Montreal Olympics, and although his quad scull had a disappointing time because of injury to another crew member, “It was great to be both there,” Diana remembers.
After Montreal, Diana and Tom started a family and apart from winning at the Fours Head in late 1976 during the early stages of pregnancy, Diana has hardly rowed in the past 40 years, although she has recently started quadding with Jean Rankine again.
Diana describes her rowing career as both fun and satisfying and, “An experience I wouldn’t have missed. Pity I was a bit small. Pity there were no lightweights. But glad and privileged to have been in at the beginning. And to see what they have done since.” She’s rightly proud of having started women’s rowing at Durham University; “I think that I raised the awareness of women’s ability to row by doing that, certainly in Durham where… rowing hadn’t been [serious or widespread], and was just Wednesday afternoons, for sporty women in sporty women’s colleges.”