The 16th Women’s European Rowing Championships took place on 5-7 September on the Wörthersee at Klagenfurt in Austria, a few days before the men’s Championships.
There was a record entry of 47 crews from 15 countries including the USA. The Championships are notable for being the first which included petites finals to establish an order for crews 7-12.
Racing was over 1,000m, the distance set by FISA when it first introduced international women’s rowing in 1951.
The Austrian Army constructed a 5,300 seat stand on piles driven into the lake bed as well as a floating 1,300 seat grandstand that was towed out to sit opposite the finish for the finals.
According to the Almanack, “Two scullers, Margaret Gladden and Christine Peer, made several trips abroad, gaining experience of this kind of racing and preparing themselves for the European Championships. (One of these visits was made at the specific request of the Selectors to assist them in their decision)… Margaret won the event at Gronigen. Trips abroad have also been made by the UU/St George’s double scullers and the Bedford four.”
The Selectors – Frances Bigg, Hazel Freestone, Julie Johnson, Eleanor Lester, Barbara Philipson and Marrian Yates – eventually chose Margaret as the sole GB representative for 1969. Not sending anyone else was a change from the apparent tendency in the past to ask the fastest British crew to make a standard time, and then send them anyway even if they didn’t.
The UU/St George’s double was Jean Rankine and Elaine Steckler (from the 1966 eight). They won a trial during the WARC Eights Regatta in May against Beatrice Scorer and Liz Pickering (m. Lorrimer) of Cambridge University Women’s BC by four lengths but presumably the Selectors didn’t consider them fast enough. It was certainly a positive development that there were more women taking sculling seriously, though.
Margaret had previously competed at the 1964 Championships in a University of London women’s BC coxed four which was sent for experience and came last, and in the 1966 Championships when she also finished last in her repechage, quite a long way off the pace. Despite having moved away from London and started work as a doctor, she had clearly managed to put in enough training to improve considerably.
As Margaret sadly died in 2010, long before this history was written, this account is based on documentary sources rather than personal recollections.
At the Championships
An article in Rowing about the men’s championships, described certain challenges relating to the course which took up just a small corner of the 20km long Wörthersee, and it’s reasonable to assume these applied to the Women’s Championships too; “Racing was confined to the mornings, as the passage of the ferry-steamers in the afternoons raised a rolling swell which, incidentally, made practice very difficult. The possibility of a strong wind blowing up must have given the ORF [Austrian Rowing Federation] nightmares for months, but the course was generally glassy smooth and perfectly fair.”
Margaret was fourth in her first round heat of six from which one progressed directly to the final. She was then third in her repechage from which only the first two qualified for the main final, finishing 4.18 seconds behind second place.
In the petite final she led by a convincing 2.57 seconds at half way and by 3.16 seconds at the finish to come seventh overall.
After having had a tiny dip in 1968, the Russians were back on top, winning three of the five events and medalling in the other two. East Germany won the other two gold medals along with two silvers and a bronze.