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

By the time Lin took up rowing at the age of 23 she already had a very strong sporting background, having been a sprint and middle-distance cross-country runner right through her adolescent and early adult years, competing at county level, and then also playing hockey to a high standard when she was training as a PE teacher.

Her decision to venture onto the water was made with some reluctance, and mostly because her husband Jim promised that she could have a dog if she did. Here’s how it happened.

Lin and Jim had got 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 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. What she didn’t realise was that St George’s shared a boathouse with Civil Service Ladies RC, “And think I’d rowed twice at Civil Service before I realised 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 the club (one of the largest women’s clubs at the time) Lin had accidentally joined, not long after she’s 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 quads), 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 a late-formed quad which she’d been in wasn’t selected to go to the 1984 Olympics either, Lin took a new approach. “That 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 quite innovative,” she explains. “He got us using weights and he got us running up hills, the steps in the stadium which was in Port Sunlight, he’d set us off at 10 second interval and we’d have to run up the wooden steps of the grandstand and down and up and down 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 there were various types of medial 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.”

Rowing with Beryl Crockford

Lin and Beryl were extremely close friends, and even once Beryl opted to single scull from 1979 to 1984, the two shared a room on training camps and at Championships, and got up to all sorts of adventures, several of which are described in Beryl’s biography.

But although they 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.”

Winning gold

Despite not having been in touch for years, her 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.)