The 1982 World Rowing Championships took place from 23-29 August in Lucerne. The women’s events had 62 entries from 21 countries.
The programme for the women’s, lightweight men’s and openweight men’s races was unusually compressed and integrated, with rounds for all three categories on two of the eight days.
International women’s racing continued to be over 1,000m as it had been since 1951. However, as Lucerne had fixed starting pontoons for the women’s although the eights raced 1,000m, the smaller boats actually raced a little further. [Which is a bit poor for a World Championship, and astonishingly so for one run by the Swiss of all people – Ed.]
Setting the scene
Alan Inns continued as Women’s Squad co-ordinator, having first started coaching the eight part way through the previous season.
In a report to an ARA council meeting held in late December 1981, Pauline Churcher explained that squad assessment weekends would take place at Hammersmith rather than Nottingham for the 1982 season, and there would be three of these.
The various groups
Once again, the boats which eventually raced at the World Championships in 1982 comprised those put together through the squad system and small boats which formed privately and did their own things in training but attended the squad assessment/s.
A new pair
Lin Clark and Gill Hodges formed a pair on their own, although they seem to have trained and even raced in the eight sometimes too. Lin had been racing internationally since the squad started in 1974 and, in fact, had been in the GB pair that year, at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and in 1977 with Beryl Mitchell. Gill was newer to the squad, but had rowed in the eight with Lin in 1980 and 1981.
Lin remembers being discouraging at first when Gill suggested they get together. Her reasoning was that she had long had a difficult relationship with the Selectors, and while the friction this caused was “water off a duck’s back” to her, she wasn’t convinced that the younger athlete was “mentally tough enough to be on the outside.” However, Lin remembers, Gill’s father, Alec Hodges, a legendary coach at Tideway Scullers, told his daughter that she would learn a lot from rowing with Lin, and she took his advice. Lin enjoyed rowing with Gill a lot, describing her as, “Mentally really relaxing and easy to get on with.”
They were coached on the water by Alec Hodges, with Dan Topolski adding input in the final approach to the World Championships.
And a changed double
With her 1980 and 1981 double sculls partner Sue McNuff ‘taking a year out’ (Sue admits she suspected she had retired for good), Astrid Ayling teamed up with Rosie Clugston for the 1982 season. Ron Needs coached the double as he had the previous year. Astrid’s husband Richard wrote in Rowing magazine the following spring that the crew, “Blended very quickly together during the winter.”
Rosie says, “Astrid’s a very easy person to get on with so it was a pretty good time. I enjoyed it and she taught me a lot. We’d go out and sing to each other during the warm up! The training programme that Ron set was pretty brutal, not in terms of what people do now but for the time, and for part-time athletes.”
After six years in the squad in crew boats, Rosie, like Astrid’s previous British doubles partners Pauline Hart and Sue, found it extremely liberating to be in a small crew where they could just get on with their training instead of constantly competing with others. “It was also great to know early on what you would be doing,” she adds.
Beryl Mitchell in the single scull
In her fourth year in the single scull, and fresh from winning a silver medal at the 1981 Worlds, many in British rowing dared to hope that Beryl was poised to get the gold medal GB women’s rowing had so long sought. A bonus was that the 1981 World Champion and Olympic Champion Sanda Toma from Romania had retired.
However, during the Christmas holidays she had a very serious tobogganing accident in which she hit her head on a tree. The front of her scull was badly fractured and required major surgery. Mark Hayter, who was still coaching her on on the water, remembers, “It was a massive trauma and it was a big setback. It was quite clear that whatever happened that in that year she was not going to be where we’d hoped she would be.”
Mark also feels that things hadn’t actually been going to plan even up to that point. “Beryl was in a new relationship that was disruptive to her training [not least because she spent quite a lot of time teaching her boyfriend, who was a canoeist, and three of his clubmates to row, coxing them at the Head of the River Fours in November where they won the novice restricted pennant – Ed.]. She wasn’t making the progress I had expected. This is somebody who had just won a silver medal and was a strong possibility to improve on that medal, not someone who you would have imagined was a flash in the pan. She’d proved that by moving on from 1979 to 1980 to 1981, getting significantly better results each year. And whilst progress will inevitably slow the higher you get, and getting those extra seconds or nanoseconds is that bit harder, I believed she could get them but I wasn’t really seeing it.”
Beryl and Mark went to Florida in the Easter holidays (both were teachers) for a training camp to help get her project back on track. “She went out there for two or more weeks, but I just did the first week, I think. We stayed in Jacksonville with a friend of hers who lived on a boat there. It was a cheap way to get some sunshine and to train. We borrowed some boats from the University of Miami. I was coaching from a scull as usual. Hers was decent, and mine was an absolute scow! But it was a useful interlude and she was able to get in some uninterrupted training away from other distractions.”
The main squad
In an article in the April 1982 issue of Rowing magazine, Richard Ayling wrote enthusiastically that, “Alan Inns has totally rebuilt the women’s squad eight from last year and has introduced a lot of new young talent.” In fact, though, six of the rowers in eight had raced at the Worlds the year before, and there wasn’t a squad four or quad either. After the high-energy years of 1979 and 1980 led by Dan Topolski, the squad was pretty much at rock bottom in terms of numbers of members and coaches [and the amount of documentary evidence available about the period too – Ed.], and leadership.
Over the winter, Jane Cross and Jo Toch won Women’s Elite Pairs, and Astrid and Rosie won Women’s Elite Double Sculls at Walton Small Boats Head in December. But the squad entry at the Women’s Rowing Committee Eights Head in March was beaten into second place by a hefty seven seconds by Lea crew stroked by 1976 Olympian Gill Parker and containing four former junior internationals. And it wasn’t just that the Lea crew was exceptional: Kingston finished only one second behind the squad in third place (out of 36 entries). Mary Wilson of Reading RC, an occasional training partner of Beryl’s, won the women’s pennant at the Scullers’ Head with former international Stephanie Price second and Gill Bond third.
Assessment and early-season racing
Spring Assessment weekend in Nottingham (1-2 May 1982)
For the first time ever, the women’s squad assessment took place at the same time as the men’s at a single event in Nottingham, which was exactly what the plan that Chair of Selectors Pauline Churcher stated would not be done this year. That said, the alternative proposal of selection events on the Tideway was really never practical.
The main women’s squad did at least some racing in fours, and there were rowers there who didn’t ultimately make the team that year including Janet Unwin, but the event also seems to have been used as an occasion to rubber-stamp the pre-selected eight rather than to identify the fastest crew through small boats trial because, as Rowing magazine reported, the eight, “[Was] not challenged during the weekend and looked confident throughout, giving the [men’s] lightweight coxless fours a good race during their 1k on Saturday.” That said, the weather was so bad that proper seat racing wasn’t possible, with the men’s Chair of Selectors, Ron Needs, being quoted in Rowing as saying, “Conditions were so difficult, it was difficult to draw any conclusions.”
The report concluded, “The weekend answered two important questions. In the doubles, had Astrid Ayling and hew new partner Rosie Clugston got it together during the winter? In the sculling, had Beryl Mitchell fully recovered from her tobogganing accident? Both were answered positively.”
This weekend also saw the start of the main action by British forces to liberate the Falkland Islands which had been invaded by Argentina at the beginning of April.
Mannheim regatta (15-16 May 1982)
The eight attended this, but it’s unclear how they did or whether other boats went too.
Nottinghamshire International regatta (29-30 May 1982)
NIR had higher number of international entries than usual with seven western European federations competing as well as Australia. Fast conditions led to 14 of the 18 regatta records being broken.
The eight only raced on the Sunday and won by 13 seconds over ARA juniors, with no other serious opposition, but setting a new course record of 3.12.55. Members of the eight also competed in coxed fours. The Saturday crew, stroked by Jane Cross, finished just a fraction behind a French crew in a final won by the Dutch crew by seven seconds. The following day’s competition saw the same finishing order, but with the French much closer to the Dutch and GB (which may have been different people) further behind.
Beryl won the single sculls by four seconds on the Saturday ahead of Dutch and Danish scullers.
The double of Astrid and Rosie was second both days, six and then seven seconds behind a Dutch crew, but beating a Swiss double comfortably on the Saturday and a French one by a small margin on the Sunday.
Lin and Gill’s pair came third both days behind Dutch and Australian crews.
Duisburg (12-13 June 1982)
Lin and Gill won the pairs, setting a new course record in the process, and Beryl also won in the single sculls. The eight “managed an honourable second to the Bulgarians”, according to Desmond Hill in the Telegraph, finishing 2.55 seconds down. The coxed four finished fourth, over 15 seconds behind on the East German winners.
Henley Royal Regatta (1-4 July 1982)
Women had raced at Henley Royal for the first time the previous year, over a 1,500m course which seemed to be a compromise that satisfied nobody as it was both shorter than the full regatta course and thus requiring a short start to be put in which interrupted the programme, but also longer than the international racing distance. In 1982 the women’s invitation races took place over 1,000m, starting at Fawley, which at least removed one issue with them.
There was still a limit of four crews per event, but single sculls were added to the programme, along with the coxed fours and double sculls which had been raced in 1981, possibly prompted by Beryl Mitchell’s silver medal at the World Championships.
Not many invitations were issued. In this second year of these test events, designed to assess the feasibility of including a full programme of women’s races over a short course, the invitations were kept to a minimum as the American scullers Christine Lofgren and Joan Pendleton from Long Beach Rowing Association, California doubled up in the singles and double sculls.
For whatever reason, the eight, which contained the top rowers in the GB sweep squad weren’t involved this year. Instead, the two British entries in the coxed fours were a crew made up from the next group of sweep squad members, who raced under Henley’s ‘only two clubs get a mention rule’ as Thames RC and Ibis RC, and the GB Junior four which raced as Abingdon RC and Weybridge Ladies ARC – the very first junior women’s crew to race at Henley Royal Regatta (the first junior women’s event, the Diamond Jubilee Cup, wasn’t brought in until 2012, some 30 years later).
The actual crews were:
|Thames and Ibis
B: Janet Unwin (Ibis RC)
2: Beverley Jones (Upper Thames RC)
3: Sarah Hunter-Jones (Thames RC)
S: Hazel Sims (Newark RC)
Cox: Pauline Wright (Charing Cross Hospital BC)
|Abingdon and Weybridge
B: Suzanne Barker (Abingdon RC)
2: Sue Clark (Abingdon RC)
3: Karen Skinner (WLARC)
S: Samantha Wensley (Strode’s College RC)
Cox: Hilary Jones (WLARC)
Both fours lost their first round races, the senior squad crew to the eventual winners, Boston University, USA.
After securing an easily verdict in her first round, Beryl triumphed in the singles, beating Stephanie Foster of New Zealand in the final. The official record calls this race, “One of the highlights of the regatta,” and describes how, “Mitchell was faster away, at 40, to the New Zealand sculler’s 34½. Foster then began to close up but touched the boom, allowing Mitchell to draw away again to lead by two lengths at the mile. After this, at 28 to Mitchell’s 32, Foster fought back, but Mitchell held on to win by a length.”
Astrid and Rosie won the double sculls, winning their first round (after a false start) against Patricia Pinkerton and Kathryn Reitby of Riverside Boat Club, Boston by four and a half lengths and then beating Haldis Lenes and Solfrid Johansen of Sandefjord Roklub, Norway in the final by three quarters of a length. The regatta record states, “In the final the British crew led at once and always had the result just about in hand,” although Rosie later wrote, “This was a tough race with both boats overlapping for the whole course but in the middle we pulled out a small lead which, although challenged, we managed to maintain to the finish.” She added that Astrid’s performance was particularly impresive as she was suffering from heavy cold at the time.
Sadly, the ‘experimental’ women’s races were withdrawn after 1982, mostly because of the time taken to put in and then remove the short start in what was a packed, four-day programme at the time. A competition for women’s single sculls was reinstated in 1993, by which time racing had moved to five days, over the full course (international women’s racing having moved to 2,000m in 1985), with eights, quads, junior quads, and more recently coxless fours, pairs and doubles, club eights, student eights and junior eights being added after that.
Amsterdam (10-11 July 1982)
In 1982 Amsterdam regatta took on the mantle – usually held by Lucerne – of being the biggest pre-World Championships or Olympic event because Lucerne regatta didn’t take place owing to the Worlds being held there.
Lin and Gill finished fifth in the pairs on the Saturday, beating a Dutch club crew, and sixth on the Sunday when they were actually about three seconds closer to the East German winners. Rowing magazine later pronounced that they “seemed below par,” and Desmond Hill commented in the Daily Telegraph that they had been “steering poorly,” although Richard Burnell wrote in the Sunday Times, that the duo had, “Come together well and can be relied on to race hard. But they lack the physique.”
The eight was “beaten convincingly,” by Russia and DDR on both days, as stroke Jane Cross put it in her notes on the back of the photo below. On the Saturday, the USSR won by 0.78 seconds in 2.56.10, setting a new world record in fast conditions. The GB crew did 3.12, but as Pauline Janson remembers it, they were actually slightly up on the East Germans at half way before falling back. Burnell’s view of the crew, however, was that it, “May well be the fastest yet produced by the British Home Stores squad… [and] could still make a creditable showing in the World Championships.”
In contrast with his up-beat comments about the eight and even the pair, Burnell was scathing about the first day performance of the GB four which, he said, “Trailed in last behind the private entry from Lea RC, both more than 20 seconds behind the winners, Russia.” On the second day the order of the two British crews was reversed with the squad crew five seconds faster than the women in orange, although no closer to the Russians.
In his view the double, which finished fourth on the Saturday, was “perhaps the most disappointing” of the British women’s crews, and, “Seemed to be quite uncoordinated, neither parallel in the water nor together on the catch. They… seemed to be sculling against rather than with each other.” Desmond Hill was a little kinder, noting merely that the crew, “Looked to have lost its earlier pace.”
Mary Wilson of Reading RC took part in the single sculls on both days but didn’t reach the final on either, coming tenth overall on the second day. Beryl Mitchell only competed on the Sunday, finishing second behind the East German sculler in headwind conditions after, “Coming from well back in the worst lane,” as Desmond Hill described her race in the Daily Telegraph.
National Championships (17-18 July 1982)
In pleasantly calm conditions, the crews which went on to be selected for the World Championships all had comfortable wins.
Beryl won the single sculls by seven seconds, Astrid and Rosie got the gold in the doubles by nine seconds, Lin and Gill secured a seven second victory over Nicola Boyes and Kate McNicol in the pairs, and the eight beat a composite of past, present and future squad members by six seconds. The squad eight had Kate Panter in as a sub for Kate Holroyd who was still recovering from her appendix operation. The composite was Katie Ball, Gill Parker, Nicola Boyes, Kate McNicol, Lin Clark, Beryl Mitchell (subbing for Gill Hodges), Clare Carpenter and Jean Genchi, coxed by Sean Bolton.
Stern four and the cox of this eight were a genuine Lea club crew, comprising two former internationals (Jean Genchi and Gill Parker) and two former junior internationals (Clare Carpenter and Katie Ball). Three of them had been part of the eight that beat the squad eight to win the Women’ Head in March, but the four had no agenda about making a point against the squad and were just enjoying a good season of high-level racing.
Just 50 minutes before the eights raced they’d had the closest final of the senior women’s events in the coxed fours against the crew which had raced at Henley Royal, which Rowing magazine described as a squad four. “The Lea and the squad battled it out for the gold medal and it was a narrow win [under a second – Ed.] for the squad,” according to Rowing which added quite reasonably, “It seems a little odd that neither crew was involved in selection [i.e. were not selected to go to the World Championships which were not particularly expensive to attend that year, being only in Lucerne], for the winning time didn’t compare that unfavourably with the standard time and the times of others.” The magazine had a point, although both crews’ showing in Amsterdam had not suggested that either would be likely to reach the final at an event with a full Eastern bloc entry, and the existence of a club crew which was the same speed as the ARA boat meant that Selectors, “Bowed to the inevitable by omitting their four,” as Desmond Hill put it in the Daily Telegraph, following the team announcement straight after Nat Champs.
The GB women’s rowing team in 1982 was:
B: Alexa Forbes (Nottingham BC)
2: Belinda Holmes (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
3: Melanie Holmes (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
4: Pauline Janson (John O’Gaunt RC)
5: Kate Holroyd (University College and Hospital BC)
6: Sally Bloomfield (Thames RC)
7: Jo Toch (Burway RC)
S: Jane Cross (Burway RC)
Cox: Zena Kitching (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
Coach: Alan Inns
B: Rosie Clugston (Borough Road BC)
S: Astrid Ayling (Kingston RC)
Coach: Ron Needs
B: Lin Clark (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
S: Gill Hodges (Tideway Scullers School)
Coaches: Alex Hodges and Dan Topolski
Beryl Mitchell (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
Coach: Mark Hayter
At the Championships
The weather conditions were mixed in Lucerne with either no wind at all or just a light tailwind, but almost constant rain.
Single Scull (4th out of 14)
On arrival at the Championships, there was some confusion about the draw for the heats in the single sculls, as it was unclear whether Maria de la Fuente from Mexico was going to appear or not. In the end, it emerged that the whole of the three-boat Mexican team had had to cancel their trip to Europe because the peso’s plunging exchange rate made it just too expensive for them to attend.
The scullers were allocated to three heats from each of which three crews would progress directly to the semifinals. Beryl “delivered the goods,” as Rowing put it by coming second in her opening round to Irina Fetissova of Russia, whom she’d beaten in the final the previous year. The East German who had beaten her in Amsterdam came third.
In the semifinal, she came second again, challenging the much-fancied ‘new’ Romanian Valeria Racila, and leading New Zealand’s Stephanie Foster (whom she beat at Henley) by a “good length,” according to Rowing.
The final began with high drama as first the East German and then the Romanian false started before they finally got away. “In a magnificent [race],” according to the Almanack, “A bare half second separated the Romanian and the Russian at 500m, with Mitchell in close attendance… At 500m, Stephanie Foster of New Zealand had been fifth but she also began a sustained drive for the line… Mitchell momentarily faltered. She recovered almost immediately but by this time Foster had slipped through to take the bronze medal. Only 4.27 seconds covered all six finalists; a truly remarkable performance in a sculling race.” Rowing told it slightly differently, writing, “Around 800m it suddenly seemed a if the drive had gone from Beryl’s legs and the attack seemed to fall away. For the first time ever it was her old rival from New Zealand who took charge of the bronze medal place.”
This video, taken by the father of the US male sculler, shows Beryl (white singlet) sprinting for the line at the end of this nail bitingly-close race:
In a preview of the GB team’s likely chances at the Championships, Rowing magazine had said of Beryl that, “Her form this year has been a little changeable but she is a very determined individual and a medal of some sort remains a possibility.” It’s prediction was pretty much spot on, and in line with the Almanack‘s summary after the event that, “It was a considerable tribute to the determination of Beryl Mitchell that she overcame the results of her most unpleasant accident in the winter to arrive a Lucerne still unquestionably a genuine medal prospect.”
Beryl was the highest-placed Briton at the Championships out of the whole team, including the men.
Eight (7th out of 7)
Going into the Championships, Rowing was pretty downbeat in its expectations of the eight, saying that it was, “Giving away a lot of weight and power to their main rivals,” and that, “Alan Inns is guarded in his predictions as he believes he is building a group capable of taking on the best at the Los Angeles Olympics.” There had also been some controversy in the crew bout who was sitting where, and Jo Toch remembers further damage to their unity being done by a psychologist at their final training camp, who asked them to fill out a questionnaire which asked questions like who they thought was best in the crew, and who they thought was worst. “I think it was a really divisive and incredibly stupid thing to do,” she says, “Because you suddenly thought, ‘Ooh I wouldn’t have chosen this person or that person.’ so we lost our unity and I think once you do that in an eight it’s all sort of game over really.”
They beat Bulgaria (their close adversaries in this boat class over the past three years) in their heat, “Rather more easily than the difference of 0.25 seconds suggested, which augured well for a repeat performance in the repechage,” according to the Almanack, a which Desmond Hill described as a “morale-building victory,” in the Daily Telegraph. But when it came to the crucial repechage, from which only one crew would be eliminated, “The crew simply could not find the inspiration and finished a clear length behind Bulgaria,” who went on to finish last in the final.
Jo Toch reflects, “That year didn’t go particularly well. Alan Inns was a good coach but things didn’t really move on particularly and it was just all quite depressing really.” Kate Holroyd agrees, though from a different perspective, pointing out that it was hardly a good sign that she and Melanie Holmes were in the top boat, in their first year as seniors. She also remembers a fair amount of backstabbing within the squad, with individuals criticising others. “We didn’t have a lot going for us anyway, and to be so destructive internally didn’t help,” she says.
Double scull (9th out of 14)
As is often the case, the doubles attracted a large entry which meant that, “There was little doubt that our girls, Rosie Clugston and Astrid Ayling, were in for a tough battle,” wrote Rowing magazine, after the event.
In their five-boat heat, the duo, “Made a better than usual start and at 500m eased away from Poland,” and China, finishing in third place and thus qualifying directly for the semi-final. So far, so good.
When it came to the semi-final, Rowing reported, “The British double were not quite as slippy off the start, raced throughout in fourth position, and finished there, about two-thirds of a length down [2.43 seconds] on the Bulgarians (who had beaten them in the heat) who gained the third qualifying place,” although Desmond Hill claimed in the Telegraph that they “briefly showed in third place.”
In the petite final the GB crew, “Again made a reasonable start,” Rowing observed, but after spending most of the race in second place, were just pipped on the line by a late surge from the Czech double which pushed them back into ninth place overall.
This would turn out to be the last of Astrid’s astonishing 11 international appearances in the double sculls (in the first five of which she represented West Germany), and although it was far from her best result, she enjoyed the year, and says that, “Rowing with Rosie was good fun.”
Coxless pair (10th out of 12)
Rowing‘s comment about the pair going into the Championships was that, “A little more consistency under pressure and knowledge from their experienced coach Dan Topolski (who is also coaching the men’s pair) could see them obtaining a good final placing.”
Unfortunately, their first round result didn’t reflect their true speed as, following a reasonable first 750m, “They caught a crab, rowed right out of their lane, and paddled home looking very disconsolate.” There’s always the repechage to provide a second chance after first round disasters, but this didn’t go well for them either, and they finished last. In the petite final they beat China to secure tenth place overall, with Romania apparently not starting.
Looking back, Lin Clark says, “I remember that being quite a happy year because I really liked Gill. Gill’s a very smooth rower. She’s a very thoughtful rower. But Gill and I don’t know why we weren’t faster than we were.”
Overall 1982 was a disappointing year for GB senior international rowing, and the first since 1973 when the men didn’t win any medals. Soon after the World Championships the Amateur Rowing Association launched a formal enquiry afterwards into the reasons for lack of medals and, indeed, final places. It was a dismal way to mark the centenary of the founding of the Amateur Rowing Association, and half way through the four-year Olympic cycle, things were not looking great for Los Angeles in 1984.
GB Junior Women’s Team
The FISA Junior Championships took place at Piediluco near Rome. The British women’s team was quite experienced but didn’t do particularly well; the coxed four didn’t reach the final, the pair was fifth out of five, and single sculler Sandy Lutz came 10th out of 11.
B: Suzanne Barker (Abingdon RC)*
2: Sue Clark (Abingdon RC)*
3: Karen Skinner (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
S: Samantha Wensley (Strode’s College BC)**
Cox: Hilary Jones (Weybridge Ladies ARC)*
Coach: John Biddle
B: Jackie Harling (Lea RC)*
S: Jean Muir (Lea RC)
Coach: Barbara Kaye
Sandy Lutz (Kingston RC)
Coach: Graham Pratt
* denotes a previous cap in the GB Junior team. Sam Wensley had competed in both 1980 and 1981.
© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2018.