1969 Women’s European Rowing Championships

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.

1969 press badge

Press badge for the 1969 championships.

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.” Just before the European Champoinships Margaret Gladden also raced at the Bosbaan Regatta in Amsterdam, finishing fourth, seven seconds ahead of Christine Peer (who had sculled in the 1960 quad) according to one newspaper clipping;

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 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.

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.

b/w pic of woman in scull

Margaret Gladden. Photo: Gill Womersley’s personal collection.

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. The video below shows her training in Chester and yes, she is wearing shorts despite there being snow on the ground; it would be many years before legging were invented.

At the Championships

1969 programme

1969 European Rowing Championships programme cover.

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.” That said, Margaret Gladden’s postcard from the Championships to her university rowing friend Jean Rankine simply read, “Pond rough.”


Margaret was fourth in her first round heat of six from which one progressed directly to the final. One newspaper clipping reported that, “Conditions were good but a head wind made times slow and this did little to help Britain’s only competitor… Dr Gladden, although not outclassed, was never near the leaders in her heat of the sculls which was won comfortably by the [eventual] champion. Dr Gladden raced well but lacked the physique to press [the Russian].

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. The rowing journalist Geoffrey Page wrote, “Despite her lack of size, Dr Gladden put up a great fight against [Sike of Austria and Kornhass of West Germany] and kept wth them right up to the last 200 metres, wher ethe lack of inches inevitably told againt her. Nevertheless, to be up in this class in these championships is a considerable success and the measure of Dr Gladden’s achievement is the performance of the US sculler… who finished many lengths behind in fourth place.”

Black and white photo of 4 women starting sculling race

The first stroke of the repechage. Margaret is in lane 2. (Photo: Kärtner Tageszeitung.)

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.

Margaret was quoted in an unidentified loal newspaper as saying. “I was disappointed about not getting a place in the finals but my attempt was not too bad and the whole British team’s performance [i.e. hers and the men’s team] shows we are improving.”

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.

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© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2016.