The first World Championships that incorporated women’s events took place in Lucerne from 29 August to 1 September 1974.
There were 77 entries from 21 countries across six boat classes: pairs had been added to the eights, coxed fours, coxed quads, double sculls and single sculls which had made up the programme during the 20 years of the Women’s European Rowing Championships. Entries in the five original classes were up by over 25% on the previous highest entry, and these Championships also saw the Canadian women’s first international appearance.
Five countries – East and West Germany, the USSR, Bulgaria and the USA – sent full teams. Britain entered four boats which was actually our largest team since 1960.
The photo at the top of this page shows the 1974 GB coxed quad. From left: Liz Lorrimer, Lorraine Baker, Karen Peer, Pauline Bird, Jackie Darling.
The new GB women’s squad
The move from European to World Championships brought a completely new approach from Great Britain. For the first time, GB women’s rowing would be run by a full time, paid ARA coach – Penny Chuter – and a proper squad system was introduced with athletes joining and being selected as individuals and only then formed into crews rather than the previous method of identifying the fastest existing crew in each boat class and then deciding whether it merited being sent to a Championships.
The squad was set up by Penny Chuter who was appointed by the Amateur Rowing Association to be its third National Coach in early 1973. Although her employment only started officially at the beginning of September that year, Penny decided to get going straight away with finding out who there was on the women’s rowing scene. “I started running a gym session a couple of times a week at Thames RC,” she recalls. “There were probably only about six girls and I thought it would be useful to find out a little about the their fitness and the type of land training they were used to doing.”
Soon after formally starting her new job, which included extending and delivering the club coach education scheme as well as running the new women’s squad, Penny wrote to all rowing clubs that had women members, inviting them to put forward candidates. Two routes to international selection were announced: one was to join the new squad which required adherence to her training programme but brought with it some funding for training camps and attendance at international regattas; the other was to remain outside the squad and simply to appear at trials. In the end, everyone who made the team in 1974 did so via the squad route apart from the quad’s cox, Karen Peer. The single sculler Ann Cork joined the squad part way through the season.
Penny was upbeat about the new women’s squad but also didn’t shy away from spelling out the size of the task ahead of her new recruits.
In a letter to those who had registered for the squad which she sent on 10 October, she pointed out that, “The challenge of the Olympics is, of course, a great one, but to be blunt, very few oarswomen in this country realise the sacrifice and dedication, not just for one year but for many years, necessary to reach the required standard. Both the quantity and quality of training necessary are far, far more intense than most oarswomen have yet experienced.” And in case anyone thought that this might apply equally to all nations, she added, “Most world-level finalists have been competing at international level for at least three years.”
She rightly recognised that one of the national squad’s difficulties was a lack of numbers rowing at club level and in late 1973 she spoke at the Women’s Amateur Rowing Coummittee’s AGM about the “reforms” she felt were needed to “raise the overall standard of women’s rowing and to strengthen the foundations of the National Squad,” as Rowing magazine later reported it. Although impressed by her enthusiasm, the sheer practicalities required to deliver her vision took many of those present aback. Her suggestions included: clubs doing far more to recruit new members; increasing their fleets by buying secondhand boats and then updating stretchers cheaply with running shoes; aiming to have six coxed fours on the water at weekends [Britain’s favourite boat class – Ed.]; stopping buying restricted or clinker boats; renovating older boats by lengthening their slides and raising their riggers (from the very short, low rigs popular in the 1960s); and building up school and youth rowing, not least because women’s junior world championships would be introduced at some point.
Training and assessment
The squad’s year began in mid-October 1973 and Penny divided the ten and a half months between then and the planned mid-July 1974 final trials into four phases of training.
Phase I: Monday, 15 October to Sunday, 25 November 1973
In a letter which she sent to the the 29 women who had registered, in which she set out her overall plan for the year and the details of the first phase of the squad’s training programme, she explained that the first training weekend would need to involve trials to cut the squad down to a manageable 22.
Before that, though, there would be six weeks or so of individual training designed to raise the squad’s all round fitness with an emphasis on introducing the squad members to the quantity of training that would be expected of them. This in itself started the process of whittling the group down. “My personal memory of that is it was quite a shock for those of us who hadn’t done weights before,” says Jackie Darling. “It was HARD. But I thought at the end of it, “Well, if I can do this I can do anything!’ But it did mean quite a few people dropped out because they couldn’t cope with it.”
There were actually only four sessions a week in this early preparation phase: two on land and two on the water. Penny remembers seeing a headline along the lines of “How on earth does she expect these women to do this training programme?” Her response was simply, “Well I did more than that when I was rowing internationally.”
Penny provided detailed descriptions of various types of circuits: general endurance, short muscular endurance and heavy weights, as well as indoor and outdoor warmups, and flexibility exercises. She recalls, “I introduced not just circuit training but weight lifting, quite specifically because a lot of them weren’t very strong at all and over 1,000m the strength factor is relatively more important than over the 2,000m distance. It really was a brute power event, and one of the most rewarding things about coaching women is that normally they’re aware of their lack of strength and they will go for the technique of lifting first and that is why people like Lin Clark and Beryl Mitchell [who didn’t join the squad until its second year] learned to lift technically very well right from the very start. By the third year, Lin and Beryl were particularly good lifters.”
Getting to grips with new boat types
Although some of the squad were already scullers – Pauline Bird, Liz Lorrimer and Jackie Darling – most were not as clubs generally taught people to row in fours and eights at the time. Knowing that the first selection weekend would involve single sculling as well as sweep rowing, Chris Aistrop sought help from Don Somner (who later coached the GB women’s double from 1977-1980) at Kingston. As an accomplished skiffer she had no issues with the hand action of sculling, but she’d never been in a ‘fine’ boat.
“My problem,” Chris explains,”Was eyesight because I couldn’t scull with my contact lenses in [in case I fell in and lost them] and I couldn’t see where I was going with them out. So single sculling was quite hard for me because I didn’t feel confident. I was very wobbly [when I first went out at Kingston] because it’s not something I’d ever done before and I’m more brute force and ignorance really – I like the power and the strength of rowing. But we were going up and down the Teddington reach and there was a fisherman on the bank and by the time we came back he stopped Don and said ‘She’s better now than she was when she started!’ Which I thought was just amazing because I knew I was still rubbish.”
Rowing in pairs was also a new challenge for the squad, particularly as it was the first exposure any of the bowsiders had had to foot steering, there being no coxless fours or quads in those days. “We’d never rowed in pairs,” Civil Service Ladies RC member Clare Grove explains. “Our clubs didn’t have pairs for us to row in so that was a new experience.”
The first time the squad got together was at a training and assessment weekend in late November based at Remenham Club (which is a social club not a boathouse) in Henley. Jackie Darling recalls, “There was nowhere proper to change. I remember changing while over this little drain that went into the river in the Upper Thames boathouse. It was freezing cold and in between racing we had to go into Henley to find a café to warm up.”
At the end of this – and all – phases, the squad members had to submit details of their training – distances run or rowed and times for the runs, weights lifted and so on. Everything that could be measured was, not least so that the athletes themselves could see that they were making progress.
About 20 women then carried on to Phase II.
Phase II: Monday, 26 November 1973 to Sunday, 17 February 1974
Things now stepped up a bit with the number of outings increasing to three a week, covering about 50 miles, and more focus on strength in land training with weights gradually building up too. Jackie Darling remembers, “Sometimes you’d do a two-mile run followed by 200 squats, and then you might get on your bike and cycle eight miles to work.” She often did lunchtime weights at the general Civil Service gym with Chris Aistrop, who worked reasonably close by. “You spent most of your time feeling very tired,” she adds laughing. Some things don’t change.
Phase II would culminate with trials at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham to cut the squad down further. Penny’s launch notes explained, “By the end of this phase I should have some idea as to the possibles and probables for crews for this year’s World Championships and at present I am not even ruling out the possibility of an eight.”
Chris Aistrop wasn’t able to take part in these trials because she was still recovering from knee surgery she’d had to have over Christmas to remove a cartilage she’d torn in training doing a star jump.
Although Chris already had issues with her knees, some of the exercises the squad were doing were asking for trouble such as the deep squats (with weights) that were a common part of rowers’ circuits as they fitted with the extreme compressed technique that was also in use then. Penny recalls:
When I became a National Coach, Bob Janousek and the ARA were strongly recommending compressed technique even more extreme than Karl Adams, and all the land training pamphlets produced by Jim Railton for the ARA encouraged the use of ‘Deep High Pulls’ which involved standing on the end of a bench and allowing the bar could go right down below the feet to achieve extra compression. Although only relatively light weights and high repetitions were used, I soon learnt that these had a diabolical effect on the knees and by 1977, after Bob Janousek had left, I stopped using them. When I became Men’s Chief Coach in the autumn of 1978, I had to do a lot of remedial work with the Men’s Squad since most of them had chronic knees problems. My 1979 men’s eight 1979 had no knee problems by the spring.
Chris also suffers from back problems today which she feels are at least partly caused by doing “millions and millions of straight leg sit ups because I was very good at them” in the circuits. Again, this was a training fashion at the time although Penny points out that this one persisted for longer; “It wasn’t until the 1980’s that straight-leg sit-ups stopped being recommended by physios and so on,” she says, adding, “And the FISA Training Manual still recommends them now!”
Penny admits that although her training programme was based on the sports science available at the time, it was inevitably experimental in some ways. “No one outside the Communist bloc knew anything about training programmes for women rowers over the 1,000m distance,” she explains. “I used a mixture of what I had learnt from my own training programmes in the 1960s, which started with a predominance of long-distance training and ended with too much interval training. In addition to these lessons from my own experience, I used the new basic training principles, and modified them towards 3-4 minute events rather than Janousek’s programmes designed for 6-7 minute events.”
Chris was exempted from the February trials and feels that her racing record as a skiffer counted in her favour – at the time, very few of the other women in the squad had much of a racing pedigree at all, with the exception of Liz Lorrimer who had medalled at the National Championships and Nottingham International Regatta in 1973. As Penny had herself won numerous skiff championship titles in the 1960s, she understood where Chris was coming from. “She knew I was a championship winner a couple of times and knew I had the will to win and the work ethic and all the rest of it and I think that’s why she gave me a break on that selection weekend that I couldn’t go to,” Chris explains.
The first cut
The squad was cut to 13 rowers from 20 to after the selection weekend on 15-17 February 1974, and were allocated to specific boats. The eight had clearly fallen off the agenda by this point.
As reported in Rowing magazine, those selected to continue in the squad were:
Pair: Liz Monti and Lin Clark OR Clare Grove
Four: Chris Aistrop, Clare Grove/Lin Clark, Jill De Boer, Chris Grimes
Doubles: Liz Lorrimer/Lorraine Baker, Pauline Bird/Jackie Darling
Reserves: Maggie Lambourn, Colleen Madge, Sara Waters
The four was coxed by Pauline Wright of Civil Service Ladies.
Of these 13 rowers, nine were also from Civil Service Ladies. Chris Aistrop and Pauline Bird were members of Weybridge Ladies, Liz Lorrimer was from Nottingham BC and Lorraine Baker from Derby RC.
At some point after this Jill de Boer withdrew from the squad because, as others remember it, her then husband didn’t like the amount of time she was spending training rather than looking after him. “It was a shame,” Pauline Bird says, “Because she was a good rower,” an assessment with which Penny Chuter agrees. Jill carried on racing for Civil Service Ladies RC for the rest of the summer and moved to Cambridge shortly after.
Phase III: Monday, 18 February to Sunday, 28 April 1974
The two doubles trained separately: the ‘Midlands’ crew of Lorraine and Liz were based in Nottingham where Liz lived (Lorraine was from Derby); and the ‘Thames’ crew of Pauline and Jackie was based in London. They got together on just five occasions in training to make a quad, rowing out of the ARA and sharing a boat with the four which Jackie says was known – not particularly affectionately – as ‘The Tank’ although it’s official name was ‘Stroke Me Gently’. “It was the heaviest boat you could find really, apart from a clinker,” she recalls, grimly.
“It was all a bit unsatisfactory but it kind of worked in its own little way, sort of,” Pauline Bird remembers. “What we used to have to do was change the riggers between outings so the four would have the boat first outing, and then we would have it second outing and then the four would go out and do their second outing and then we’d do another outing. So basically what it meant was that there was an enormous amount of hanging around at Hammersmith.”
The Thames double was coached occasionally by Penny, who mostly focused on the four and pair, but got most of their input from the Midlands double’s coach Tony Lorrimer, who was Liz’s husband and had gained his Silver coaching award on the same course as Penny late in 1972.
Although the ARA housed boats, it lacked facilities for the new women’s squad. Clare Grove remembers getting changed, “In a cupboard at the back of the boathouse,” which Penny says was so small it that only a couple of people could use it at a time. “You certainly couldn’t get a coxed four in there all at once and there wasn’t any plumbing,” she remembers despairingly. It was later used as an outboard engine store for which it was considerably more suited.”
Phase III ended with a further selection weekend from 26-28 April, after which the Selectors announced the squad that would race at Ratzeburg Regatta in mid-June. The pair was also to race at Mannheim at the beginning of June.
|Coxed Quad||Coxed Four|
Karen Peer (named later)
Coach: John Cork
Martin Pratt (from Burway RC) and Mike Blake (from Bristol Ariel RC) assisted Penny with coaching throughout the year but particularly at these squad weekends.
About the pair
According to Chris Aistrop, the pair of Liz and Lin were the first crew. This was particularly impressive as Lin had only started rowing just before the squad was formed but, critically, she had a background as a county-level runner and, aged 24, had many, many years of training and racing behind her. Australian Liz Monti was a more experienced rower and she too had a long training background from before she started rowing, having been a swimmer as a child, and “Had the best physique and physiology of anyone that year,” Penny says.
Both were members of Civil Service Ladies which Lin had joined primarily to find out what rowing was all about as her husband Jim was already an established international. When pairs started being put together at the early training weekends, Lin remembers, “I said, ‘But who’ll row with me? I can’t row!’ And Liz said, ‘I will. You’re fit and strong and you know you can’t row. A lot of these girls think they can and they can’t.’ Because she’d been training in a different country she didn’t seem to have that much respect for some of the girls in the group. And she said, ‘Stick with me and I’ll teach you how to row.’ So between the Civil Service boatman [Bob Dowson] and her, I had the lousiest year of my life because everything was my fault. My brain was hurting me. I would sit in the tube to work in the morning, thinking hands, body slide – every single part of that stroke would be in my head 24/7. I’d think I’d mastered it and get back with Liz and realise I hadn’t. And it was such a traumatic year but she was a really, good talented and tough cookie. So Liz and I ended up the fastest pair out of the squad.”
The coxed four
The four was the second boat, as Chris Aistrop remembers it, and this is borne out by the fact that they got the one new boat which was bought that year, which at least meant that the quad didn’t have to keep re-rigging The Tank, or didn’t once the new Colley four was delivered in early June. “It was really nice to have a boat built for us and it was light enough because otherwise we were rowing in really old heavy stuff. We were very fortunate to have that boat,” Chris says.
Penny’s report of the Championships in the Almanack mentions that the four’s morale took a dive when they were told that the new boat might have to be allocated to the quad after all (possibly because of difficulties in finding another boat that had quad riggers). This was a typical problem which the squad faced at the time: all it could really offer was the chance to row with the best people – it certainly didn’t have much equipment or even many coaches.
Liz Lorrimer remembers an initial plan for the new boat to be the quad because it was lighter but, she says, “Then it was decided that the four was more likely to [do well] than the quad so they gave them the boat. We probably wouldn’t have [done much better] anyway but we had no chance, really.”
The coxed quad
The quad faced numerous challenges in addition to having to share a non-ideal boat with the four for much of the year and train separately as doubles because of their geographic separation. “The quad/two doubles got the thin end of the wedge, they really did,” Chris Aistrop says. “They were underprivileged compared to us.”
Penny did find them a couple of ARA doubles to use, one of which was quite a good boat and the other one… well, wasn’t. The nice one was bought for the women’s squad by Cygnet RC member Peter Sly who, along with his wife Pat – a Civil Service Ladies RC member – were incredibly dedicated volunteer helpers of the squad in its early years, organising Nottingham camps, and providing super-efficient administrative support. Peter didn’t want anyone to know about his gift but since he died in 2016 Penny has, with Pat’s permission, been able to let people know about his generosity.
The Civil Service connection explains why the boat – which had originally been bought by St George’s Ladies RC coach Bill Peer for his daughter-in-law Christine Peer and her doubles partner Christine Davies to race at the Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1970 and was named ‘Brownlie’ after his first wife – was kept on the Tideway and used by the Thames double and therefore the Midlands double had the other one which was a converted men’s pair, built by Roland Sims of Putney a long time earlier. Liz Lorrimer remembers it being very heavy and calling it, “Expletive Deleted, written ****!”
Lorraine also had to learn to scull, and although Pauline had started sculling when she was 11 (she was now 16), coached by her father, she’d done almost no crew sculling. “I was a bit of a lone wolf really at Weybridge Ladies. I did a certain amount of sweep and stuff but entertainingly enough the year before I joined the squad I was thrown out of the Weybridge Ladies second crew for not being good enough at sweep and so I was basically a sculler really.”
It was also some time before their cox was finalised, more – it seems – through lack of candidates than indecision, with no cox named in the 29 April squad announcement. Anthea Jaggard from Durham University coxed the crew at Ratzeburg in mid-June but by the National Championships in late July, 11-year old Karen Peer (who had been well taught by her mother Christine, herself a former international) had got the seat.
And single sculler Ann Cork
Ann largely seems to have done her own thing quite a lot because she was a single sculler and did various events that the rest of the squad didn’t attend including Bedford Scullers’ Head and Monmouth Regatta. She was coached by her husband John.
Phase IV (Racing): Monday, 29 April to Sunday, 14 July 1974
The squad had a packed racing programme that summer, domestically as well as internationally. This led to some accusations of ‘pot hunting’, but Penny’s reasoning was that they needed as much race practice as they could get, not only in their combinations but also just as athletes because so many of them were relatively inexperienced. Of the 26 weekends from when they did Bedford Head on 9 March to the start of the World Championships, there were only seven when at least some of them weren’t racing either at an external event or squad trials.
Mannheim (1-2 June)
For funding reasons, only the pair raced at Mannheim, coming sixth and last on the Saturday, about which Rowing reported that they, “Lost more by nerves in their first race than anything, but the experience should be useful,” and then on the Sunday, “Gaining confidence [the pair] rowed better in this race and finished fifth,” although this was slightly further behind the East German winners than on the previous day.
Ratzeburg (15-16 June – eight lanes)
The new squad’s first experience of international racing came as a nasty shock to most of the crews.
An exception was the pair which finished second out of four boats on the first day and three on the second. On the Sunday they were only 2.22 seconds behind a crew from Hamburger RC who washed them down after veering into their lane. This was a crew which turned out to be one of their closest rivals at the Championships.
The coxed four were last in their races on both days.
In the doubles, according to Rowing, the Midlands crew was, “Disqualified due to their lack of knowledge of international starting methods and the other finished seventh out of eight,” on the first day. There were no further starting problems on the Sunday, but neither crew qualified for the final. The Thames double was faster by 6.93 seconds in the better boat.
Racing in the quad, they came seventh out of eight on the Saturday, some 26 seconds behind the winner and third out of four the next day, 17 seconds off the winners.
Ann Cork qualified comfortably for the Saturday final, coming third out of six, but was unsettled by the rough water that developed later in the day and finished eighth in the final. She coped better with difficult conditions the next day and finished third, just over 19 seconds down on the winner.
When asked what it was like racing international opposition (which didn’t even include Eastern bloc countries) for the first time, Jackie Darling whispers, “Demoralising!” adding, “We had this wonderful dream – the reason [the squad] was formed was because women’s rowing had been accepted into the Olympics so we were aiming to get a gold at the Olympics in Montreal in 1976. That was our goal. So it didn’t start very well!” Liz Lorrimer agrees; “It was only in Ratzeburg that we realised quite how far off the pace we were.”
Even their first issue of GB kit – understandably a highlight of any international athlete’s career – didn’t match their expectations. Basically, there wasn’t any that was sized or cut for women and an official letter from the Women’s National Squad Management Sub-Committee just ten days before the regatta announced that they should wear white t-shirts with men’s singlets over the top. And as in the previous twenty years of the Women’s European Rowing Championships, they also had to sew on their Union Jack badges.
“We also had track suits which were left over from the men,” Liz Lorrimer recalls. “So I think I had something like very, very small bottoms and an enormous top because that was all that was left.”
Nottinghamshire International Regatta (29-30 June)
Two weeks later at the NIR, where entry levels were low and the opposition was far from even the best that Western Europe could offer, the pair won on both days, beating a Danish Students crew into second place on both occasions. The coxed four also entered pairs: on the Saturday, bow pair (Maggie Lambourn and Chris Grimes) were third, eight seconds down on Liz and Lin, while stern pair (Chris Aistrop and Clare Grove) were fourth, a further three seconds behind. Maggie and Chris were third again on the Sunday but this time Chris and Clare were pushed down into fifth place by a Thames boat stroked by Barbara Philipson, a former international from the early 1960s.
The coxed four did, however, win on both days, beating St George’s each time, as they had at Bedford Regatta the previous weekend. This was important as St George’s – who rowed out of the same boathouse as Civil Service Ladies (and all but one member of the squad four was from CSLRC) – had beaten them at Walton Regatta on 8 June. Even thuogh the race was their first outing in their new boat, this was a particularly painful defeat for the squad crew because of additional rivalry between the two clubs. St George’s had decided not to get involved with the new squad, seemingly because they were unconvinced that it would last, and their coach Bill Peer thought he could produce better crews than the squad could. Whether they intended to take on the squad at the planned final trials isn’t clear.
The quad only raced as doubles with the Thames boat beating the Midlands crew again on both days. [Remember that result as it’s important for a plot twist later on – Ed.]
Somewhat embarassingly for all concerned, Ann Cork was beaten – just – by former international Christine Davies and a schoolgirl called Gill Webb from Stuart Ladies RC who had beaten both Pauline (also still a schoolgirl, in fact) and Jackie from the Thames double in the heat. Liz and Lorraine from the Midlands double were fourth and sixth in the final with an Australian in between, but all four of the scullers from the quad may have been prioritising their doubles races over those in their singles.
Ann then beat Gill in the Sunday’s final with Christine fourth and Liz Lorrimer sixth. The other three members of the quad had been knocked out in the heats. Penny wrote later in the Almanack that there was really nothing to choose between Ann and Christine – Ann was younger and was very fit; Christine was much more experienced. In the end, Ann was chosen, “Because she offered greater potential for the future.” She rowed in the squad for one more year, racing in the eight in 1975.
Selection trials (11-12 July)
The Holme Pierrepont course had been booked for open selection trials at which all comers could challenge the squad boats but this was cancelled because, “In view of the few people presenting themselves for selection, and the information already supplied from the results at NIR and earlier regattas, the Selectors decided it was unnecessary to bring those concerned specially to Holme Pierrepont.”
The “few people” were probably somewhat upset by this and are likely to have been various scullers who went on to challenge the squad at the National Championships but weren’t ultimately brought into the team.
National Championships (20-21 July)
The squad did a great deal of doubling up at Nat Champs.
Liz and Lin won the pairs by a comfortable seven seconds from Chris and Maggie (bow pair of the four) with the Midlands double (using just one blade each, obviously) of Liz and Lorraine third, and Clare Grove (stroke of the four) and Sara Waters (who’d been listed as one of the Reserves after the February trials) fifth.
The squad crew also won the fours although Rowing magazine had a point when it commented that, “It continues to be surprising that the ladies coxed four from Civil Service/Weybridge [Ladies] can only just beat the straight Civil Service crew,” as the verdict was under two seconds.
In the single sculls Christine Davies beat Ann Cork again, but Ann remained as the selected sculler for the World Championships.
The quad had a four-boat straight final which they won by five seconds over a Thames composite containing another of the sculling challengers, Jean Rankine.
At that stage Pauline from the Thames double was stroking the quad with the Midlands double in the middle and Jackie at bow. “I exploded on the bank,” Tony Lorrimer remembers, “Because they went over at something like 26-27 while being chased by Jean Rankine’s crew who were doing well over 30. And I lost my temper with Penny Chuter and said, ‘You lot are fixated with Pauline stroking when you should have Liz stroking and get the revs up!” Liz adds, “We were panicking a bit because the selectors were panicking about the Thames quad and worrying about whether we were going to beat it. They had no confidence in us whatsoever. But if we hadn’t won then it would have been a real mess over selection.” The crew order was subsequently changed and the Midlands double went into stern pair where Liz stroked.
In the doubles – another straight final – the Midlands double beat the Thames double by six seconds, a complete reversal of the result from NIR [Remember those? – Ed.] “That’s because Tony had bought us a boat!” Liz explains. As Tony remembers it, “The original deal was, because there was one good double and one heap, when they went to international regattas, Penny would have her double use the better boat on the Saturday and swap on the Sunday. But when Liz came back from the first regatta in Ratzeburg, I said, ‘How did you get on?’ And she said, ‘We didn’t win either of them.’ ‘Even when you had the best boat?’ I asked and she replied, ‘We never got the best boat!’ And when we ran the trials in April, whoever had the best boat won, so I thought, ‘I’m not putting up with this,’ so we went and bought a boat from Phelps which was as good as the boat they’d got, so once we were equal, we thumped them!”
Readers who have been counting will have noticed that this made two golds and a bronze for the Midlands double. “Because we only rowed over 1k we were able to race three times in succession,” Liz explains. “We rowed in the double which was first, and then we swapped the riggers over and rowed in a pair, but we were worried about the quad that was coming later and we didn’t want to be beaten so we didn’t go flat out in the pair because I reckon we could have won that as well! We raced to half way [at which point they were four seconds down on Liz and Lin and only a fraction behind second place] and then we paddled over for the bronze [finishing 11 seconds off silver and 28 seconds behind Liz and Lin].”
Clearly with an eye on developing newcomers for the next year’s squad, at the end of Nat Champs Penny asked the junior sculler Gill Webb, who had come fourth in the senior event and, if she’d be interested in going to the World Championships as spare woman to learn what it was all about. Gill, however, had other plans. “I said, ‘What, spare woman? No, I’m going on holiday with my mates,'” she recalls, adding that, “I was just enjoying myself [doing well at NIR and the National Championships where she’d only entered the senior event because there wasn’t a single sculls event for junior women at the time] and thinking this was good fun, and I didn’t realise the hooha it caused that this young thing from the Lea in Hackney had beaten all sorts of people!”
Duisburg (27-28 July)
Results from Duisburg have proved hard to track down with the exception of the coxed four. “We did our own personal fastest time in the heat [3’42.91″ – the ‘standard time’ which the Selectors required that year was 3’46”] and failed to qualify for the final [via the repechage] by 0.56 seconds,” behind New Zealand, Chris Aistrop recorded, noting that they had actually been in second place at the half way point in the rep.
Final preparations (and a bit of fun)
The squad then had a week’s training camp from 18-23 August in Nottingham, after which they headed straight to Lucerne. Although the schedule was pretty full on, they managed to fit in some team bonding, led by Lin Clark who had a t-shirt printing machine and produced shirts for the entire team emblazoned with ‘in jokes’. The origins of some of these slogans have been lost in the mists of time.
The stories behind those that CAN be identified and remembered are as follows:
Chris Aistrop: “Three’s Knee’s Seized” in reference to her knee problems and the fact that she was at three in the four.
Liz Monti: “Bruiser 1” and Lin Clark: “Bruiser 2” – these were after Liz’s baby which was quite sturdy and had also survived falling in the Thames from the bottom of Penny’s riverside garden one day when the squad were all there – Lin recalls jumping in to save her, but Penny had leapt a fraction of a second later to do the same thing and landed on both of them. The baby was unscathed but became known as the Bruiser.
Liz Lorrimer: “Cockles” – see below.
Lorraine Baker: “Mussels” – “We used to call Lorraine Muscles because she had big muscles,” Liz Lorrimer explains, “So she said she wanted to be Muscles, and I said, ‘I’ll be Cockles then,’ so we changed the spelling.
Tony Lorrimer: “Alive Alive-O” – see above.
Karen Peer: “Dawn Treader” – Karen was a big fan of the Narnia books which include The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Penny Chuter: “HIC” – no one (including her) knows what this was about but my theory is it stood for “Her In Charge”.
The GB orange ‘chunder’ bucket followed the squad round the regattas, but no one remembers why the broom merited inclusion in the photo or what it is Penny’s has on her head (it’s not a hat).
Barbara Philipson (who stroked five GB crews for the European Championship from 1960-1965, and had also been a Selector for several years) is in the picture because she was Women’s Team Manager.
Although by this stage the squad’s demurely high-necked racing tops had arrived, the provision of shorts was up to the individuals and literally home made. In a letter to the team about logistics for the Championships, Barbara wrote, “It is preferable that the team should have uniform black shorts. The four produced their own cheaply and we suggest you refer to M. Lambourn regarding cost and pattern.”
At the Championships
In its pre-Championships edition, Rowing magazine took an up-beat tone about the prospect ahead of the women’s squad; “The ladies team goes to Lucerne knowing that they have made rapid strides towards becoming a power in Women’s International Rowing. Many of the girls in the squad would wish to convey to Penny Chuter sincere appreciation for the earnest efforts she has made on their behalf since her appointment as National Coach less than one year ago.”
Having arrived four days before racing started, the crews set about their final training, with Penny coaching from her single because the shape of the natural Rotsee meant that coaching from a bicycle was out of the question.
The opening ceremony was so low-key that not all of the team are convinced that it happened, but as Jackie Darling remembers it, they marched through the cobbled streets of the old town dressed in their ‘uniforms’ of pale blue skirts and, “Some sort of clingy, towelling top in navy blue with red stitching [provided by Marks & Spencer] and, bless Eleanor Lester’s cotton socks, she got us black knickers – not your brief ones, your full size, black school-type knickers, so that’s what we wore in the procession,” she laughs, adding that, “Obviously nobody knew we’d got the black knickers!” They also had “handsome shoulder bags” from M&S according to an article in Rowing.
Pair (9th out of 11)
Having gone “from strength to strength,” as Penny put it, in the last three weeks of their training, the pair had another nervous first race in which they finished last out of six, but their time put them in the mix with other crews in the repechages with two to qualify from each rep to the final.
At 500m in their rep they were vying for second place with the Hamburger RC crew that had washed them down at Ratzeburg. At the time, lanes were still drawn randomly and so despite being close in speed, they were on virtually opposite sides of the racecourse, which is always difficult, especially in coxless boats. “At the finish, they felt they had come second, but in fact were third, having well beaten Canada and Bulgaria,” Penny wrote later in the Almanack.
Penny then expected them to come second in the small final, although she felt they had “an outside chance” of winning it. Chris Dodd described the British pair’s performance in The Guardian, writing, “They pushed the eventual winners, Bulgaria, hard for the first half of the race, but Clark looked as if she had difficulty getting her blade out of the water in the later stages and the Hungarians came through to push the British into third place.”
Less than 2.5 seconds separated the first three crews.
Coxed four (11th out of 11)
The four was last in their heat from which only one crew qualified directly from the final, and although they had not been expecting to avoid the repechage, they were “disappointed to find that New Zealand [also in their heat] had improved so much” in the month since they’d got close to them at Duisburg, as Penny put it in the Almanack. With two crews to go through from their five-boat repechage, they still faced a massive challenge. Despite rowing well, they again finished last, just over a second behind fourth -placed USA but over 15 seconds off the time of the second qualifying crew. They were also last in the small final, finishing a touch further behind the Americans.
Penny also observed that the crew had peaked too early and their morale was low by the time of the Championships. On a more positive note, Chris Aistrop wrote in her album that their time was 3’42.64, “Our fastest time ever. We go out on a goodie!”
In retrospect, Chris Aistrop was amused by an incident in one of the races, “We didn’t have a false start but there was a false start and the false start sound was a bell, and of course there were cow bells all along the side of the lake – on cows, I mean – and by the time the Eastern bloc actually heard the false start they’d done nearly 500m! Whereas the rest of us were a bit behind [and closer to the bell], so we stopped and they carried on.”
Coxed quad (unplaced out of 16)
The quad’s spirits were high when they arrived in Lucerne, having finally been found a more suitable boat than ‘The Tank’ to race in just two weeks before the Championships, and been able to get a good run of outings together in their new line up with Liz Lorrimer at stroke and Karen Peer coxing.
They rowed well in their heat, according to Penny’s report in the Almanack, “And produced the fastest time they had every achieved.” However, with the standard particularly high in this event, they were last, although not by much.
But despite a positive approach to the repechage, they again finished last, nearly ten seconds behind the crew in front, and with so many crews in the event, this meant they didn’t even qualify for the petite final. Liz Lorrimer summed up her feelings as, “Just really disappointed because we put a lot of effort into it and got nowhere really. We didn’t think we’d get to the final but we thought we’d get into the last 12. But no.”
Single scull (unplaced out of 15)
The weather conditions at the regatta were ideal for a single sculler, giving Ann the best opportunity to do herself justice. However, she came last in her heat of five although very close to the Canadian sculler. Writing in the Almanack, Penny commented, “Ann went off fairly well but seemed not to fight for position… and came last despite a determined second 500m.” She then produced a personal best time of 3’52” in the repechage and beat the Canadian but was still eight seconds off qualifying for the semi-final.
In the last few years of the European Championships, East Germany had generally come second behind the USSR in the medal table, but the DDR leapt ahead at these first Worlds, winning four out of the six events and getting a silver and a bronze in the other two. The other golds went to Russia and Romania. Overall the 15 medals were divided amongst just six countries, the others being West Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Summarising the Championships in Rowing magazine, Grace Wilkinson, one of the Women’s Rowing Committee, wrote, “The standard of the best rowing here is both terrifying (as against the current GB standard) and inspiring (as showing what girls can achieve).” Regarding the British team, she said, “What they lacked most of all was that ability to put on just that extra pressure in the last stages of a race; they will achieve this only by racing crews which they cannot easily beat.” This makes it sound as if there was quite an easy fix available. In fact, the squad had far deeper problems than just this – their lack of enough people feeding into it, lack of experience, size and strength amongst those who were feeding into it, and lack of equipment and facilities had a lot more to do with their results than not being able to ‘take it home’. And, to be fair, the coxed four had had some tight races against St George’s, while the doubles had raced each other a few times and Ann Cork had had several close battles with Christine Davies.
Penny was more realistic in her report for the Almanack:
What then of our own objectives and accomplishments? Since the 1960s the standard of the top crews in this country has not been of international calibre, and in the 1970s only single and double sculls have been sent. It may be argued that most of the crews sent this year were not of World Championship class either, but I have no doubt in my mind that the decision to send them was entirely valid.
As a start a National Women’s Training Squad System was inaugurated in October 1973 to try to give at least some regular coaching to some of the best girls we have. In 1974 the standard at elite level became higher and wider – at last women are racing in boats other than coxed fours.
The World Championships have motivated some members of this year’s team to continue with their eyes now open… even knowing that there are still the problems of insufficient boats, equipment, money and coaches as well as the dedication required for training.
After the Championships she wrote to each member of the squad, saying, amongst other things, “You may feel disheartened by the factual results but in all the circumstances you could not have hoped for much more in the first year and ‘I am proud of you’!”
Choice of boats
Several of the quad/doubles as well as Christine Davies, the sculler who wasn’t selected, have speculated that it might have been better to have sent a double rather than the quad, or even in addition to it, not least for reasons of geography.
That said, Liz Lorrimer admits, “There weren’t very many of us and I don’t think it would have mattered what combination of crews we’d put out, we wouldn’t have got anywhere – we were nowhere near fast enough.”
Grants from the government to the Amateur Rowing Association’s for its entire international rowing programme did increase to £24,420 from £13,749 the previous year, partly bolstered by financial aid available from the Olympic training grant now that women’s rowing was an Olympic Sport. But the budget had to cover far more than it ever had before as exhibition events for men’s lightweights had also been included in the World Championships for the first time in 1974 as well as the women’s events, and coxless quads had been added to the men’s programme, potentially increasing the size of the GB team as well.
In addition, with World Championships now replacing the European Championships in all non-Olympic years, there was the prospect that the Worlds would take place outside Europe on some occasions, which would cost more to attend.
Did the men get more?
The short answer seems to be “yes, but they had sponsors”. The women’s team certainly stayed at a different hotel during the Championships from the men’s one where the men’s heavyweight and lightweight teams were. According to Penny, this was just because of a “strong reluctance” on the part of the men’s Team Manger and coaches for the men and women to be together rather than any wider a gender to give the men better accommodation. However, the men were receiving financial support from Leisure Sport and Philishave so more was spent on them.
At other international events, the fact that women and men were accommodated in different places was down to the regatta and not to the ARA.
Bits and pieces
Sponsorship and publicity
According to Rowing magazine the women’s squad did get small amounts of sponsorship, including the team uniforms from Marks & Spencer and a coaching launch (with outboard engine) that was paid for by Reckitt and Coleman. This was called ‘Staminade’, after a sports drink powder they produced – the squad were also given a lot of packets of Staminade too, which Jackie Darling remembers was “very, very nice”.
During the year the Women’s Rowing Committee also bought 14 new rowing blades and eight pairs of sculls with funding from the government and the ARA, and the good double scull, which had initially been lent to the squad was bought “With a number of very generous donations, a jumble sale and other fundraising,” as a report in the Almanack later put it.
Penny and some of the rowers also appeared on the children’s TV programme Magpie to raise the profile of women’s rowing but none of them remember any details about this.
Penny had arranged for the team to be given a free supply of pollen tablets which would have been quite expensive to buy. These are high in vitamin A, which helps the immune system, so presumably the idea was that they would help the team to avoid getting ill. After the championships, Penny asked them all to fill out a questionnaire on their effectiveness. Liz and Jackie don’t recall any benefits.
Going up Mount Titlis
After the Championships, or possibly just after the GB team had finished racing, Penny arranged for the team to go up to the snow-capped peak of nearby(ish) Mount Titlis in a cable cars at least partly because all the members of every team had been given a free transport pass that not only covered trams in the town but also the lake steamers, funicular railways and cable cars, and Mount Titlis was the nearest cable car to the regatta site.
Jackie Darling remembers the trip as being “great fun,” but Chris Aistrop hated it because she has a morbid fear of heights and spent the entire trip sitting on the floor of the gondola, terrified.
When summing up the 1974 season in the Almanack and also looking ahead, Penny made several key points, some challenging, but some that also carried an element of optimism for the future:
- Because 1974 was the first Worlds, the standard at the bottom end was expected to be (and was) lower as new nations sent crews to sample the standard.
- The championships were quite close geographically so the cost was reasonably low.
- British women’s crews should be at the 1975 World Championships as they will be in Nottingham so, if nothing else, it was vital to have started the long climb back to world class rowing in 1974.
It was also essential that the GB women entered the 1974 and 1975 World Championships if the British Olympic Association was even going to consider selecting them for the 1976 Olympic Games.
Jackie Darling gets to the nub of the performance gap and therefore the challenge for the future with an analysis that reflect’s Penny’s words at the start of the season about world-level finalists having been training for at least three years; “It was very easy to blame your equipment and all that sort of thing but at the end of the day I think it was that we’d only just got together and started training at that sort of level and compared with all the Eastern European crews we were all way behind in the times. It was so sad because it wasn’t through lack of effort.” Success at this level would require years of training, not just ten and a half months.
Pauline Bird adds, “Obviously we did humiliatingly badly being 10 seconds behind the next crew in the rep. I definitely didn’t want to do that ever again and I got a kind of determination then to actually be a lot better.”