Lin Clark

Years 1974 World Championships (2- 9th)
1975 World Championships (4+ 9th)
1976 Olympic Games (2- 10th)
1977 World Championships (2- 9th)
1979 World Championships (4+ 10th)
1980 Olympic Games (8o 5th)
1981 World Championships (8o 6th)
1982 World Championships (2- 10th)
1984 Lightweight Championships (Lt 1x 7th)
1985 World Championships (Lt 2x 1st)
1986 World Championships (Lt 4- 2nd)
1987 World Championships (Lt 4- 4th)
Clubs Civil Service Ladies RC, Thames Tradesmen’s RC, Sons of the Thames RC
Height  5’8″ or 173 cm
Racing weight 10 stone 1 lb or 64 kg (when openweight)
Born 1949

The photo of Lin (right) in training with Beryl Mitchell in 1976 at the top of this page is © Syd Burke.

Getting into rowing

When Lin took up rowing at the age of 23 it was with some reluctance, and mostly only because her husband Jim promised that she could have a dog if she did. At the time her sport was running, and she had over a decade of experience as a sprint and middle-distance cross-country runner, including at county level. She’d also played hockey to a high standard when she was a student PE teacher in Chester.

Here’s how her journey in rowing began.

Lin and Jim had recently married, shortly after he’d competed at the Munich Olympics, following which he’d retired from competition. Or so he thought. But he was soon asked to take part in Bob Janousek’s new national squad (hitherto, GB men’s rowing had generally involved selecting the fastest club crew in each boat class) with the aim of turning round Britain’s poor showing at the 1972 Olympic Games and trying to get a medal at the Montreal Olympics in four years’ time.

With Lin understandably not keen on the idea that her new husband wanted to spend all his spare time rowing again, Jim came up with a solution. “At that point I genuinely didn’t even know that you rowed backwards,” Lin remembers. “I’d taken no interest in his sport, as he hadn’t really taken an interest in mine. But one day he said to me, ‘You know, you’re strong, you’re fit, you could row if you wanted.’ And I said, ‘But I don’t like the water and I don’t like hard work. Why would I want to work as hard as you do, you’re manic?’ He replied, ‘Well you could go to the Olympics and if you do, I’ll give in and we can have a dog.'” For animal-loving Lin, this was a key concession. “So the next day I went to the boathouse at Duke’s Meadows,” she continues. Her aim was to investigate St George’s Ladies RC, and she was welcomed in by the first person she met there. However. St George’s shared a boathouse with Civil Service Ladies RC, “And think I’d rowed twice at Civil Service before I realised I was at the wrong club and by then I’d actually joined them!” She was soon shown the basics by the club boatman, Bob Dowson, who was a highly effective talent spotter of the era.

International rowing career

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Lin in 1975. (Photo: Lin Clark’s personal collection.)

With women’s events due to be included in the World Championships for the first time in 1974, the Amateur Rowing Association had decided to launch a women’s national squad, and had appointed Penny Chuter to run it. Visiting Civil Service Ladies (one of the largest women’s clubs at the time) not long after Lin had won her novices at Lea Autumn regatta in September 1973, Penny explained that trials would be in pairs, a boat Lin had never been in at that point. “I said in a big loud voice, ‘Uh oh, that’s me out then, who’d row with me?,'” Lin remembers, “Because even though I was strong and fit, a pair boat is much harder to row than a big boat, and that was all I’d done. But then out of the blue a woman called Liz Monti said, ‘I will!'” Liz had already rowed for Australia but had dual nationality and had recently moved to the UK with her husband’s job, and despite Lin’s lack of rowing experience, had spotted her athleticism and felt this was more important than existing rowing technique which she was happy to nurture.

Lin and Liz rowed at the World Championships in 1974, which was the start of Lin’s long rowing career at this level, involving 12 international appearances over 14 years (and in every boat class except the quad), a record only bettered since by three other women (Jane Hall, Katherine Grainger and Frances Houghton).

Full details of her years racing at openweight can be read here:

1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982

In 1978, Lin raced at the early season international regattas in a pair with Beryl Mitchell (later Crockford), as she had in 1976 and 1977, but they were ultimately not selected to go to the World Championships in New Zealand. Again in 1983, Lin’s pair – now with Gill Hodges, with whom she’d also raced in 1982 – was not deemed fast enough to go to the World Championships.

Increasingly frustrated by these experiences of being the best pair in the UK but not being allowed to represent her country, and also by the late-formed quad which she’d been in not being selected to go to the 1984 Olympics either, Lin took a new approach. “1984 was my defining year in the end. Beryl and Gill were at the Olympics in Los Angeles, so I rang up a rowing club in Canada and said I wanted to borrow a boat, and the man who answered the phone said, ‘Get yourself out here, it’s your lucky day, I’m the president of St Catherine’s RC and you can come and stay at my house and I’ll lend you a boat.'” She competed as an independent single sculler, representing Sons of the Thames RC, at the FISA Championships for Lightweights in Montreal which included test events to determine whether international women’s lightweight racing was feasible.

Woman in sculling boat in sunshine

Lin training in Canada. (Photo: Lin Clark’s personal collection.)

The 1984 test was deemed successful and women’s lightweight events were included in the World Championships programme from 1985 when Lin teamed up with Beryl once again to win Great Britain’s first international Championships gold medal in rowing in the lightweight double sculls. In 1986 she got a silver in the lightweight coxless four, and became the first British woman to medal in consecutive years.

Full details of her lightweight years can be read here:

1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987

After the 1987 World Championships, and by now aged 37, Lin thought carefully about whether wanted to continue, and found a number of compelling reasons for stopping at that point. First, understandably, for someone who had competed at the highest level for so long, she was frustrated that others didn’t stick with it in the same way with the result that the crews she was in weren’t able to build from year to year. She was also increasingly aware that, ever since she was a teenager, achieving her next goal never turned out to be enough; her first big ambition was to represent her borough, but when she did she met someone with a county tracksuit and she wanted one of those. Then she went to PE college with her county kit and met Jim who had GB kit, which made the county tracksuit less exciting. And once she’d rowed for GB she wanted to get to the Olympics, then get a world medal, then defend a world title and so on, and by now she had come to understand that there was no one win which would ever be ‘enough’. Most importantly, though, she decided that she’d like to have a baby. Her daughter was born the next year.

She also got the dog.

Lin’s impressive rowing career is a credit to her hard work and tenacity, often despite the system, and as one of the pioneers of both openweight and lightweight rowing on the World stage, she contributed greatly to the the long journey which British women’s international rowing followed to reach the level of success it now achieves so regularly.

Reflections

Training

Lin credits much of her meteoric rise in rowing from novice to competing at the World Championships in less than a year to her background as a runner, and in particular the training methods at the men’s athletics club she joined, which gave her a base of fitness that was hard for women to get at the time.

“When I first started running when I was 11, my coach was ruthless but also quite innovative,” she explains. “He got us running up the steps in the stadium in Port Sunlight; he’d set us off at 10 second intervals and we’d be doing half an hour on rough wooden steps and the idea was to overtake the person in front of you, which was usually a man because it was a men’s athletics club with just a few girls. We did running up sandhills too. Now makes you a tough cookie and it also gives you powerful legs which is why – I think – when I started to row I could deep squat better than anyone.”

Her coach also got Lin doing weights, which was unheard of for girls at the time, but in hindsight helped her the develop strong abdominal muscles that are important for rowing. She recalls, “When we went to the Montreal Olympics, there were various types of medical testing being done because we were the first women rowers and Penny Chuter actually told the people there that I had a ‘six pack’, which I did – and it was quite defined because I was quite skinny. They asked me if they could photograph it because they’d never seen a six pack on a woman. I agreed but only if my face wasn’t in it, because I was sensitive about not looking feminine. I’d had someone at work tell me, ‘So they took a picture of me with a bandeau across my chest and a large paper bag on my head, showing my six pack which I was quite proud of but only secretly because it wasn’t accepted as something for a woman to be to be proud of. Quite the reverse, actually. A colleague had told me that his wife wanted to train but he’d warned her she’d finish up looking muscular like me, and she didn’t want that. When I went back to the next Olympics I was so glad I’d put a brown paper bag over my head because they had an exhibition about the development of women’s sport, and there was the photo of me with the paper bag over my head! I was so glad no one could see it was me. Of course, nowadays everyone’s trying to get a six pack. And I’ve lost mine! So things have changed, which is good, but back then I wasn’t even convinced that it was good for me.”

The Lin and Beryl double act

Lin and Beryl Crockford initially identified each other as training partners when Beryl joined the women’s national squad in its second year, having realised that they shared a common goal of wanting to be the best. Although both had been runners before they came to rowing, they had different strengths, and this showed through in their approach to racing, particularly once the international distance was extended from 1,000m to 2,000m in 1985. “Beryl was a sprinter, a hurdler,” Lin explains, “Whereas I would have been a middle-distance runner if that had been allowed for girls in those days. When we did ten 100 yard runs, I wouldn’t get any slower from run to run, and my coach used to say this was because I didn’t run fast enough in the first place, but the point was that I couldn’t run any faster but actually I didn’t tire. I would have been an endurance runner if that had been possible, and when we did weights, she put on muscle bulk, but I didn’t.”

“Beryl was very exuberant,” Lin continues. “She always put 100% into her racing it, but I used to say to her, ‘Put 90% in now and keep something back,’ but Beryl never ever would and because I felt she was the stronger athlete and I didn’t want to let her down, I’d just go with her, but we’d blow. Consistently blow. I’d just want to do it the most efficient way, the most painless way. But Beryl wanted a blaze of glory and revelled in the pain. When we won the World Championships, we got it right, though. Less CAN be more. I got to like the mental side of racing.”

Unlike Beryl, who single sculled for half of her international career, Lin preferred crew boats. “If you gave me all the choices in all the world, I’d want to win in a double or in a relay team,” Lin says. “So when I finished a race with Beryl I felt a huge sense of relief and warmth that we’d done it together, but I could see that she wanted to do it on her own, not that she didn’t like me, it’s just that was how she felt driven. I’m a team player and she wasn’t.”

After marking each other out as sharing the same approach to training and sporting goals, Lin soon realised that she and Beryl had a lot more in common, particularly their sense of humour, and they became extremely close friends, continuing to share rooms on training camps and at Championships even after Beryl opted to single scull. They had a huge reputation for getting up to all sorts of adventures, and made sure that their lives were never dull.

After double outings on Saturdays, they sometimes treated themselves to tea in Harrods, which sounds genteel, but they found a way to get the most out of the experience. “Harrods had a wonderful deal on where you bought a ticket in the cafe and could eat as many cakes as you liked and drink as much tea for as you like. The cake buffet was incredible – a long table covered in the most wonderful cakes you’ve ever seen in your life. Now it was expensive if you didn’t eat many cakes, but if you’d worked up an appetite rowing all morning, and got to Harrods before the cut-off, you could eat cakes for maybe two hours. We studied how to eat that many cakes and knew if we started off with nothing too sweet and sickly we could keep going,” Lin explains, laughing.

After one of these sessions, Lin remembers that they were stopped by the police while they were riding home on their motorbikes. “In those days there weren’t many women who drove motorbikes, so I guess we were a bit of an unusual sight,” she says, “Especially as I think we were wearing quite short shorts. Anyway, the policeman asked to see our driving licenses, so I had to search through my handbag. Now, I’d decided to take a few Harrods’ Florentines home with me. So when I opened my bad to look for my license the first things that came out were all these cakes wrapped in serviettes, and then came the rigger spanners and the tape, and he asked us if we were burglars. In the end, neither of us could find our licenses, so he said, ‘Right, I want to see your driving license tomorrow at the police station and, by the way, what are your phone numbers?’ I told him that I didn’t think my husband would like that!”

Their enthusiasm for drinking tea was an issue when they went abroad to race because this was long before the days of complimentary tea and coffee making facilities in hotels, or maybe it was the type of hotels the GB women were booked into. Whatever the reason, Lin and Beryl took to bringing not only teabags, milk powder and sugar with them but also a heating element and a just to boil water in. “We noticed that the fuses tended to trip in our hotels but we thought that was just chance until we realised that it was our water heater,” Lin explains. “In the end other people in the team would just come out in the corridor and shout, ‘Beryl, Lin, put the fuses back!,’ because they all knew it was us by then. But we insisted on having our cup of tea. We also sometimes had trouble getting all the gear through the airport. The heating element looked a bit like a branding iron, so we had to explain that, and once the bag of dried milk that was in the bottom of Beryl’s bag burst, and this white powder started trailing out of it so the police grabbed her because they thought it was drugs! But the Germans can’t make a decent cup of tea so what can a woman do?”

Younger readers may not be familiar with the concept of ‘a happening’, which was a term coined in the 1960s for a party at which people would take LSD and do whatever they felt like while under its influence. “When we were away on training camps, Beryl would frequently say ‘I’m bored, let’s have a happening,'” Lin remembers. “Nothing to do with drugs, but she liked to make crazy things happen. On one occasion we put talcum powder outside someone’s door because thought someone was sleeping with them and we wanted to know who it was. We found out when there were white footprints back to another room! We did quite a lot of hitch hiking to explore the area too. Once we went to a market in Italy and we bought 12 spaghetti dishes which were really heavy, and we had to walk all the way back with them because we couldn’t get a lift. Beryl was in the single so she was OK, but I was in the eight and I thought I was going to miss my outing! In the end someone did pick us up, but only just in time so I got straight out of the car in the clothes I was wearing and got straight in, picked my blade up and went for the whole outing.”

Unexpected extra joy from winning gold

Despite not having been in touch for years, Lin’s first athletics coach sent her a telegram via the Amateur Rowing Association when she and Beryl won their historic gold medal in 1985. “I was just so proud that he’d remembered me and been following me in the papers,” she smiles.

Another consequence of winning gold will probably only be fully appreciated by rowers who have taken part in the ‘kit swap’ session between nations that happens at the end of every World Championships. “When I finally won, the biggest compliments came from the Eastern bloc,” Lin recalls. “Huge big men that I didn’t know knew me came up and said, ‘Well done,’ and that was so wonderful. And then an East German asked me if I wanted to swap my vest. Now, you couldn’t get an East German vest for love nor money because they weren’t really allowed to swap and they only did so with the very best. So you’d know a GB rower was good if they wore an East German for training. I remember going out on the Thames in my single when I was back home in my East German vest, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’ve still got it – in fact, it’s going in my coffin with me!”

three medals

Lin’s three major medals: World silver (Lt 4- 1986), World gold (Lt 2x 1985) and Commonwealth Gold (Lt 4- 1986). (Photo © Helena Smalman-Smith.)