GB women’s rowing ‘firsts’

Commentators and journalists in all fields love a ‘first’, and Rowing Story is no exception, so this is a list of all of the ‘first’ achievements in GB women’s rowing at senior championships.

“You are only World Champion for a year (or Olympic Champion for four years) but if you did something first, you’ll always be the first to have done it.”

– maxim

The numerous GB women’s firsts listed below are divided into two eras: the Women’s European Championships (1954-1973) era and the World Championships and Olympic Games era from 1974 onwards. Some of the ‘firsts’ apply across both, and some are specific to their era (in which case this is stated). Where multiple firsts are achieved at the same time (e.g. the first to win a medal was also the first in its boat class to reach a final, only the greater achievement is listed).

Obviously these tend to be clustered round the earliest years but what’s notable, perhaps, is how long it took for some of them to be achieved. A few that are yet to be achieved are listed at the end.

Women’s European Rowing Championships (1954-1973)

1954: First GB medal

Marjorie Lutz, Barbara Benzing, Bette Shubrook, Iris Simpson and cox Rita Walkerdine of Stuart Ladies RC won bronze in the coxed fours.


The 1954 GB four (nearest the camera) approaches the finih line in its repechage. (Photo: Barbara Benzing’s persoal collection.)

1954: First eight, quad, four and single sculler to represent GB

As 1954 was the first Women’s European Rowing Championships, the four crews in the British team were naturally the first to compete in those boat classes at a Championships. the eight was a composite, the quad and the four were from Stuart Ladies RC, and Pam Barber was the single sculler.

1960: First GB double scull

Pauline Rayner and Pam Body were the first women to represent GB in a double scull at a Championships.

1962: First silver medal, first single sculling medal

These were achieved by Penny Chuter.

Photo: Penny Chuter's personal collection.

Penny Chuter (right) with her medal n 1962. (Photo: Penny Chuter’s personal collection.)

1962: First eight to qualify for a final 

The United Universities WBC crew reached the final via the repechage. Although GB eights had raced in finals on three previous occasions, they had got there by default because there had been fewer than six entries.

World Rowing Championships and Olympic Games (1974 onwards)

1974: First women to represent GB at a World Championships

The 1974 team was a single sculler (Ann Cork), a pair, (Lin Clark and Liz Monti), a coxed four (Clare Grove, Chris Aistrop, Maggie Lambourn, Chris Grimes and cox Pauline Wright), and a coxed quad  (Liz Lorrimer, Lorraine Baker, Pauline Bird, Jackie Darling and cox Karen Peer).

The four happened to be one of the crews in the very first women’s race at a World Championships.

1976: First women to compete at an Olympic Games

The GB team was Diana Bishop, Clare Grove, Pauline Bird, Gill Webb and cox Pauline Wright in the coxed four, and Lin Clark and Beryl Mitchell in the pair.

1977: First crew to qualify for a final at the World Championships

Pauline Bird and Astrid Ayling, who were also the first GB double to race at a World Championships, qualified for the final via the repechage from a substantial entry of 16 crews.

Astrid Ayling and Pauline Hart 2x 1977

Astrid (left) and Pauline training before the 1977 World Championships in Amsterdam. (Photo © Don SOmner.)

1980: First Olympic eight, double and single sculler, and first finallists

The eight contained Gill Hodges, Joanna Toch, Penny Sweet, Lin Clark,
Liz Paton, Rosie Clugston, Nicola Boyes, Beverley Jones and cox Pauline Wright. the double was Sue Handscomb and Astrid Ayling.

Beryl Mitchell was the first woman to scull for GB at an Olympic Games.

The eight and Beryl both qualified for their finals which were five boats rather than the usual six.

1981: First World Championship medal

Beryl Mitchell won the silver medal in the (openweight) single sculls.

3 women medallists

Beryl on the medal podium in 1981. (Photo © John Shore.)

1981: First eight to qualify for a World Championships final

Obviously the eight had qualified for the final at the Olympic Games the year before, but this was the first time it had done so at a World Championships.

1985: First Championship gold medal

Lin Clark and Beryl Mitchell won the inaugural lightweight double sculls at the World Championships. In doing so, Beryl became the first British woman to win two medals and to win medals at both openweight and lightweight.

Lin and Beryl on presentation raft

Lin (left) and Beryl are rightly delighted with their gold medals, (Photo: Lin Clark’s personal collection.)

1985: First lightweight four, double and single sculler

Paula Nock, Sally-Ann Petrie, Claire Moore and Melanie Holmes were the first British women to compete in a full Championship event at lightweight in a sweep boat and Carrie Wood was the first GB lightweight single sculler.

1986: First pair to qualify for a World Championships final

Pauline Bird and Flo Johnston.

1986: First time GB won two medals at a World Championships

The lightweight four of Alexa Forbes, Gill Hodges, Lin Clark and Judith Burne, and the double of Gill Bond and Carrie Wood both won silver.

1986: First British woman to win two World Championship medals

Lin Clark.

1987: First lightweight single sculler to qualify for a World Championships final

Caroline Lucas.

1987: First time all the lightweight boats qualified for a World Championships final

As well as Caroline, the lightweight coxless four and double qualified for their finals.

1988: First crew to reach an Olympic final when ‘everyone was there’

Flo Johnston, Sue Smith, Kate Grose, Jo Gough and cox Ali Norrish produced an epic row-through in the repechage to qualify for the final.

Neither GB crews had reached their finals at the first Olympic Games to include women’s rowing in 1976. The eight and Beryl Mitchell did qualify for their (five boat) finals at Moscow in 1980 and Beryl achieved this again (for the six-boat final) at LA in 1984, but the entries at both of those Games were affected by boycotts.

1990: First under-23 gold medal

Adrienne Grimsditch and Suzanne Kirk won the double sculls at the Match des Seniors. Sue Clark and Sam Wensley had won the pairs at the 1984 event, but in a two-boat race in which they finished second after which the first crew was disqualified for being over-age.

1991: First World Championships openweight sweep medal

Fiona Freckleton and Miriam Batten were also the first openweight crew to win a medal.

Women with medals at presentation ceremony

Fiona (left) and Miriam: rightly happy. (Photo © John Shore.)

1991: First four to reach a final at a World Championships

Kareen Marwick, Rachel Hirst, Jo Turvey and Philippa Cross were the first British four to qualify for a final at a World Championships although the 1988 four had done this at an Olympic Games.

1993: First sweep gold medal

The lightweight four of Tonia Williams, Annamarie Stapleton, Jane Hall and Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless became World Champions.

Four women and coach

Wilma, Tonia, Bill Mason, Annamarie and Jane after winning gold at the World Championships in 1993. (Photo: Alison Purnell’s personal collection.)

1993: First GB junior medal

Tessa Morris and Libby Henshilwood won the bronze medal in the pairs at the World Rowing Junior Championships.

1997: First openweight gold medal

Alex Beever, Sue Walker, Libby Henshilwood and Lisa Eyre won the coxless fours.

1997 was also the first time that the openweight team won more than one medal, and that the GB team won four medals; the double took the silver and the eight and lightweight pair both got bronze.

1997 (c) Maggie Phillips

Sue Walker (left), Alex Beever, Libby Henshilwood and Lisa Eyre: World Champions. (Photo © Maggie Phillips.)

1997: First openweight eight and double to win a Championships medal

Gillian Lindsay and Miriam Batten won silver in the openweight double sculls. The eight, which was the gold medal four plus Rachel Woolf, Elise Laverick, Katherine Grainger, Fracesca Zino and cox Suzie Ellis, won the bronze medal.

1998: Two golds for the first time

The double of Gillian Lindsay and Mirian Batten, and the lightweight pair of Juliet Machan and Jo Nitsch both became World Champions. Gillian and Miriam’s win was also the first gold medal in an Oympic boat class.

Frances Houghton and Debbie Flood’s bronze in the double scull at the World Rowing Junior Championships was the first junior sculling medal.

2000: First Olympic medal

Guin Batten, Gillian Lindsay, Kath Grainger and Miriam Batten won the silver medal at the Olympic Games in Sydney.

2001: First time a British boat retained a World title

Sarah Birch and Jo Nitsch won the lightweight coxless pairs, the first time that GB women had retained a title as the event had been won by Malindi Myers and Miriam Taylor the year before.

In doing so, Jo Nitsch became the first British woman to win two World Championship gold medals, as she’d also won the event in 1998 with Juliet Machan.

2001: First quad to qualify for a World Championship final

Obviously the silver medal-winning quad had qualified for the final at the Olympics the year before but Elise Laverick, Lisa Eyre, Rebecca Romero and Alison Mowbray were the first to do so specifically at a World Championships.

2003: First sweep gold medal in an Olympic boat class

Cath Bishop and Katherine Grainger’s win at the World Championships was the third openweight gold medal for GB women (the first two having been won by Alex Beever, Sue Walker, Libby Henshilwood and Lisa Eyre in the coxless four in 1997 and then Miriam Batten and Gillian Lyndsay in the double in 1998), but the first sweep gold in an Olympic boat class.

2003: First woman to win at an Adaptive World Rowing Championships

Able-bodied cox Loretta Williams steered a men’s crew to victory in the LTA (Legs, Trunk and Arms) Coxed Four, the first British crew to race at these Championships which started in 2002.

2004: First rowers to win at an Adaptive World Rowing Championships

Katie-George Dunlevy and Naomi Riches were the first British women rowers to win (and to race) at an Adaptive World Championships, competing in the Mixed LTA Coxed Four.

2004: Three Olympic medals for the first time

The quad and the pair won silver and the double won bronze. This was also the first sweep Olympic medal, and the first medal in a double scull, and the first time that all the GB openweight entries had medalled.

2004: First woman to win two Olympic rowing medals

Katherine Grainger.

2004: First crew to race in a lightweight event at the Olympic Games

Helen Casey and Tracy Langlands.

2005: First woman to win two openweight World Championships gold medals

Katherine Grainger.

2006: First women to win golds at consecutive World Championships

Sarah Winckless, Frances Houghton and Katherine Grainger won the quads with Debbie Flood, having also won the event in 2005 with Rebecca Romero, making them the first British women to win consecutive gold medals, and the crew the first to retain an openweight World Championships title. Debbie, Frances and Katherine also won the event in 2007.

2006: First women to win AS Single Sculls

Helene Raynsford won the inaugural Women’s AS (Arms and Shoulders) Single Sculls at the Adaptive World Rowing Championships.

At the same regatta, Karen Cromie was the first woman to compete in the Mixed TA (Trunk and Arms) Double Sculls.

2008: First woman to win three Olympic rowing medals

Katherine Grainger.

2008: First Paralympic Games medals and competitors

Helen Raynsford won the gold medal in the AS Single Sculls at the first Paralympic Games to include rowing events.

Naomi Riches and Vicki Hansford won the bronze medal in the Mixed LTA Coxed Four.

Karen Cromie competed in the Mixed TA Double Sculls.

2010: Two openweight golds for the first time

The quad of Debbie Flood, Beth Rodford, Frances Houghton and Annie Vernon, and the double of Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger both won.

2011: Five medals at the World Championships for the first time

The double and lightweight quad won gold, the pair silver, and the eight and lighhtweight double bronze.

Double: Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger.
Lightweight quad: Stephanie Cullen, Imogen Walsh, Kathryn Twyman and Andrea Dennis.
Pair: Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.
Eight: Alison Knowles, Jo Cook, Jess Eddie, Louisa Reeve, Natasha Page, Lindsey Maguire, Katie Greves, Vicky Thornley and cox Caroline O’Connor.
Lightweight double: Hester Goodsell and Sophie Hosking.

2012: First Olympic gold medal

The double, pair and lightweight double all won gold. This was also the first lightweight Olympic medal.

Double: Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger 
: Helen Glover and Heather Stanning
Lightweight double: Cat Copeland and Sophie Hosking

2012: First woman to win four Olympic rowing medals

Katherine Grainger.

2016: First woman to win five Olympic rowing medals

Katherine Grainger.

2016: Frst crew to retain an Olympic title

Heather Stanning and Helen Glover. Both were also the first (and to date only) British women to have been Olympic Championss twice.

2016: First eight to win a medal at an Olympic Games

The crew was Katie Greves, Melanie Wilson, Frances Houghton, Polly Swann,
Jess Eddie, Olivia Carnegie-Brown, Karen Bennett, Zoe Lee and cox Zoe de Toledo.

2016: Three golds at the Paralympic Games for the first time

At the third Paralympic Games to include rowing, Great Britain were the gold medallists in all three of events that include women. Rachel Morris won the AS Single Sculls, Pamela Relph and Grace Clough were in the winning Mixed LTA Coxed Four, and Lauren Rowles was in the winning Mixed TA Double Scull.

2019: First time a full openweight team has been sent to a World Championships

This comprised an eight, quad, four, double, pair and single. The only other time that there has been a full openweight team was at the 1960 Women’s European Rowing Championships.

Some firsts which are still to be achieved

This list only includes ‘firsts’ which can be achieved with the current programme of events at the World Championships at Olympic Games.

  • Gold medal in the eight at the World Championships or Olympic Games
  • Gold medal in the single sculls at the World Championships or Olympic Games
  • Gold medal in the quad at an Olympic Games
  • Gold medal in the lightweight single sculls at the World Championships
  • Full team at an Olympic Games.

You may also be interested in:

This timeline of FISA changes including when the women’s quad stopped being coxed, and when women’s lightweight events were first added to the World Championships programme.

The photo at the top of this page shows (from left) the Stuart Ladies RC’s bronze medal from the 1954 Women’s European Rowing Championships, Penny Chuter’s single sulls silver medal from the 1962 Women’s European Rowing Championships, Beryl Mitchell’s single sculls silver medal from the 1981 World Rowing Championships (Photo © John Shore), and Lin Clark’s gold medal which she won with Beryl Crockford (previously Mitchell) in the lightweight double sculls at the 1985 World Rowing Championships.

© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2020.