Judith Burne

Years 1980 FISA Junior Championships (8o 8th)
1985 World Championships (8o 6th)
1986 World Championships (Lt 4- 2nd)
Clubs King James College, University of London Women’s BC, Thames Tradesmen’s RC, Kingston RC, Upper Thames RC
Height 5’5.5″ or 166 cm
Born 1962

Judith is on the left in the photo at the top of this page of the 1986 GB lightweight coxless four, which comes from Lin Clark’s personal collection.

Getting into rowing

Judith is faintly embarrassed that the reason why she first ventured down to Upper Thames RC in Henley when she was a sixth former was only because, “My friend fancied a rower!” She rapidly became hooked on the sport, though, and after initially being coached by Richard Knight, himself also a junior at the time, set her sights on getting into the GB junior team in only the third year that the FISA Championships for Juniors included women’s events. “My dad drove me to Weybridge Ladies every weekend because half of the squad was from there,” she remembers. She was selected for the eight, which came eighth out of eight.

She then trained as a PE teacher, choosing to go to Borough Road College, part of the University of London, largely on the advice of GB U23 oarsman Paul Wensley who was the brother of her junior team-mate Sam. Initially she rowed in a pair at UL there with Ann Callaway, later Redgrave, “Because we were the two who could already row,” but they later moved into ULWBC fours and eights, notching up several wins in the 1983 season.

Senior international career

Although Ann got into the GB squad for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, Judith didn’t trial. “I thought, ‘No way, I’m a lightweight!,” she recalls. However, she represented England at the Home Countries International that summer, and when the GB squad ran a ‘development’ eight in 1985 at the start of the new four-year cycle, Judith was selected to stroke it. The crew didn’t go particularly well and struggled to find the cohesion it needed, but she remembers one lighter moment when they were rowing Nottingham in their front-loading boat. “It had been raining and then the sun came out and there was a rainbow, but the end of it seemed to be right on our stern, which I could see because there wasn’t anyone in front of me,” she reminisces. “We were at the end of a rainbow!”

After the eight finished last at the World Championships 1985, a long way from the crock of gold and with little sign of how British women’s openweight rowing might improve, Judith decided to ‘go lightweight’. The weight category had only been added to the programme for the Worlds that year, but the GB lightweight double and coxless four had finished first and fourth – results that were at a totally different from those which the openweights had been achieving.

“Dieting wasn’t hard then because I was really motivated to do it,” she says. She stroked the lightweight four in 1986, winning at the Commonwealth Games and then getting the silver medal at the World Championships.

GB W Lt 4- Strathclude 1986

From left: Alexa Forbes, Gill Hodges, Lin Clark and Judith with their Commonwealth Games gold medals and red roses given to them by their coach, Jim Clark. (Photo: Lin Clark’s personal collection.)

Full accounts of Judith’s time in the GB squad can be read here:

1985| 1986

She started rowing with the squad again the following season, but this time round found dieting much more of a struggle mentally. “I didn’t find the training difficult,” she remembers, “It was the thought that I had to keep managing my weight all the time.” This, as well as the demands of her first job, commuting by bike, and a new requirement to be able to scull (which she hadn’t ever done at that time) at trials, led her to decide to stop rowing internationally.

Later rowing

After a period competing in triathlons instead, she went travelling and started rowing again in Australia. “It was so nice – I met some of the girls we’d competed against at the Commonwealths and the Worlds, so I did some rowing with them out there,” she explains. After returning to the UK she joined Thames Tradesmen’s RC where she was selected for the Home Countries International (again) in 1991 and also met her partner. “Then we started having children, so didn’t row for quite a long time, but I got into it again when we moved back to Henley.”

“For a while after being an international you don’t row because you know you’re not as good as you were,” Judith muses, “But I’ve got over that now.” She’s rightly proud of having notched up several second places at the British Indoor Rowing Championships in lightweight age cetagories, and for the last few years she’s been a member of the highly successful Upper Thames Masters’ women’s squad that won the Club Victrix Ludorum at the World Masters Regatta in Bled in 2017. In 2020 she won the gold medal in the 55-59 lightweight category at the World Rowing Indoor Championships.

9 women in Bled

Judith (second from the right) on the presentation raft in Bled 2017 with fellow GB internationals Miriam Luke and Helen Mangan, and crew mates from UTRC, City of Sheffield and Bedford. (Photo © Naomi Ashcroft.)

While working as a PE teacher at Surbiton High School in the late 1990s, Judith introduced rowing as a school sport there, and now coaches at Phyllis Court RC in Henley.

© Helena Smlman-Smith, 2018.