There were no British entries in the Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1967 at Vichy or in 1968 at Grunau, East Berlin.
No reason for our lack of team is put forward explicitly in the Almanack, but it can be inferred that there simply weren’t crews or scullers of the right standard. Margaret Gladden, the 1966 single sculls representative was still competing, but was also in her first year of work as a doctor and had just moved to Manchester. She did win the Women’s Amateur Rowing Council Sculling Championship, but her only opponent was Christine Peer (née Dennis, who had been in the coxed quad at the 1960 Championships), and a lack of other serious scullers meant that the Women’s Amateur Rowing Council Sculls Regatta and Scullers Head were both cancelled. Being Britain’s top woman sculler was hardly hotly contested.
In big boats, the 11-crew entry for the WARC Eights Head was described in the Almanack as “fairly large”, which is a rather depressing perspective, and St George’s were said to be “the only really flourishing club”, yet their best crew had shown themselves to be well off international standard, finishing last by quite a long way at the Championships the previous year. You really can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or an international entry out of domestic crews who haven’t needed to do very much to win at home, yet also lack the domestic infrastructure to drive improvement.
Despite there being no British presence, these Championships had the largest entry yet with 40 crews from 14 countries including two from the USA – the first time that the Women’s Championships had had an entry from outside Europe (the ‘European’ bit of the name had always referred only the the venue and not to national eligibility).
As in 1966, the five titles were divided between the USSR and East Germany, although this time the Russians got three to the DDR’s two. Of the 15 medals available, the USSR got five and East Germany four.
GB men’s rowing was at a low point too, entering only three out of the seven events at the men’s European Championships, and not reaching any finals. Those championships attracted 113 entries from 24 countries. 1967 saw the first FISA Youth Regatta, although this was only for boys. Britain entered all seven of the events and Eton won the eights. There were no crews from Russia or East Germany there.
You can take UU out of the Championships…
The former GB internationals from United Universities were a close-knit group of friends and as many of them were teachers they made the most of their summer holidays now that they weren’t racing abroad together. Cox Margaret McKendrick recalls an impromptu meet-up with their old Romanian rowing friends at the 1967 Championships:
We just happened to be passing through Vichy – two car loads of us – and met them in the street. They were horrified that we were not inside the regatta area and pinned their badges on us and dragged us through the entrance. The bottle they unearthed in their room was ‘just a little aperitif,’ but it took our legs away and we had to sit there until we sobered up.
There were 39 entries from 12 countries, all from Europe. East Germany headed the medal table again with three golds, a silver and a bronze. Romania was second with a gold and two silvers. Russia had faded slightly from their usual dominance and ‘only’ got one gold and two bronzes although their eight was disqualified from the five-boat straight final after two false starts. It then rowed in the race unofficially as a ‘pace boat’ and came third.
The British domestic picture reported in the Almanack was mixed: hardly anyone was competing in senior sculling events with “new blood… definitely needed”; the Women’s Amateur Rowing Council was “now quite unable to hire launches for any of our events” although it doesn’t say if this is for financial or other reasons; but entries at the WARC Eights Head were ‘up’ to 13 and the presence of three school crews permitted the awarding of a Schools’ Pennant for the first time.
The WARC looked to the future, and came up with a somewhat surprising response which certainly reflected the general obsession at that time with coxed fours and eights above all other boat types. As report in the Almanack explained, “Early in the year it was decided that a new boat was needed to give any crew selected to represent this country in fours every chance to compete on equal terms with foreign crews.” There was a successful grant application to the Department of Education and Science for half the cost of the boat and blades, which makes you think that if they could afford even half the cost themselves, perhaps the reasons why they couldn’t rent launches were not financial. Anyway, “A sectional [yes, you did read that right] shell four has been ordered and construction is well under way.” This appears to have been a total waste of money as GB didn’t have a coxed four crew until 1974, and they don’t remember their boat being sectional, so the fate of this craft is unknown.
There were no men’s European Rowing Championships in 1968 even though the Olympics were outside Europe in Mexico City. GB sent a single sculler, Ken Dwan, who came sixth in the final, and an eight. The Almanack’s report on the regatta concluded, “It is clear that British rowing has much to achieve before we can enter the top level of rowing nations.”