1983 World Rowing Championships

The 1983 World Rowing Championships took place from 27 August to 4 September in Duisburg on the Wedau course, the oldest purpose-built rowing lake in Europe.

71 crews took part from 21 countries, which was nine more crews than the previous year and the third highest number of entries in the ten years since women’s events had been introduced to the World Championships and Olympic Games. Greece and Italy entered for the first time.

The highest entry so far had been in 1979 which, like 1983, was a pre-Olympic year. This alone may have accounted for the relatively healthy number of crews, but another factor was a call by FISA for Western European countries to support the Championships and the 1984 Olympics with as many entries as possible because it was concerned that the International Olympic Committee might drop women’s rowing (although the future of all rowing was actually in some doubt) from its programme if low numbers of competitors at World Championships and Olympic regattas continued.

GB’s international rowing structure

Straight after the 1982 World Championships, the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA), British rowing’s governing body, had launched an enquiry into the GB team’s poor performance which saw only five of Britain’s 14 crews reaching finals and single sculler Beryl Mitchell’s fourth place being the whole team’s (men’s openweight and lightweight, and women’s) best result. The aim was to identify, “a longer term strategy and structure for international rowing.”

This was much more about the men’s teams than women’s rowing, as the former were beset by club-based factions who wanted to dictate who they rowed with, who coached them, and what boat they wanted to be in. Clubs also wanted to do well at Henley, and so resented “giving up” their best rowers to squad duty. In addition, some of the country’s best rowers were involved in the Boat Race until March and weren’t available to train with a national squad, a concept that wasn’t accepted by many, especially when it involved late formation of crews anyway. Men’s selection was further complicated by them having more boat classes available with both coxed and coxless fours and pairs.

Women’s rowing had fewer selection issues in some ways because there simply weren’t that many women rowing full stop so, in general, powerful ‘private armies’ didn’t exist, and there was no equivalent of Henley which club crews might want to prioritise. A very small number of Blues did get involved, but this didn’t cause the issues that it did with the men. However, the issue women’s rowing had that men’s rowing didn’t was that very few coaches were interested in coaching women either in clubs or internationally.

The enquiry’s findings relating to women’s rowing were:

At present very few women have immediate international potential and the ARA should concentrate on developing women’s rowing at club level. This will require a professional approach and an effective infrastructure. Far more development work must be done before we can expect results at the top. No significant progress will be made until the long overdue appointment of a National Coach for Women’s Rowing Development. [This role had been created in 1973 fulfilled by Penny Chuter until 1976, but after that her responsibilities were changed and no one else had been assigned to it – Ed.]

Recommendations

  1. Appoint a National Coach for Women’s Rowing Development.
  2. Accept that women’s teams at World Championships may be small for several years to come and concentrate on encouraging material for the future.
  3. The Women’s Rowing Committee to be reformed into a Women’s Rowing Commission which would be a co-ordinating body on which all Regional Rowing Council women’s representatives would set policies and objectives for Regional Committees to carry out.

International oarswoman Rosie Mayglothling was appointed to the National Coach role (which also included the task of co-ordinating the GB squad) in the spring of 1983, and started in September of that year after she had finished her degree course. This meant that there wasn’t actually any material change to the British women’s team’s situation for the whole 1982-1983 season.

Selectors and the selection process

For the third year in succession, the Women’s Selection Board was Pauline Churcher (Chair), Jackie Darling and Christine Davies, all former internationals from the 1960s and 1970s.

The March 1983 issue of ARA Club News carried a piece from the Selection Board which explained that, against the background of FISA’s call for entries, it hoped to send a full team to the Championships that summer. [This had not been done since 1960 and, in fact, wasn’t actually done in 1983 or even since for the openweight women’s boat classes – Ed.] To achieve this, the Board said, they had previously announced that they wanted to be able to draw on “a wider selection field” i.e. not just those who were London-based. “Over 70 applications were received and about half that number are now training as ‘registered’ squad members – some at Hammersmith and some with their own clubs,” with progress being monitored at assessment weekends.

The Selectors announced that there would be a single trials weekend on 9-10 April, following which “experimental” crews would be formed to race at Vichy, Nottinghamshire International and Amsterdam. Their plan was that, “By the end of June, the composition of likely World Championship crews should have become clear,” which meant they would be able to race together at Lucerne and the National Championships.

Coaching and squad formation

Sweep squad

At some point during the year, Noel Casey took over from Alan Inns as coach of the main women’s sweep rowing squad (or the eight, at least) after the latter resigned. Noel had coached at Vesta in the 1970s and then moved to Thames RC to form a junior women’s squad when his daughters Caroline and Bernadette were old enough to row. Their club coxed four was selected to go to the World Championships in 1981.

Noel Casey

Noel Casey coaching. (Photo: Kate McNicol’s personal collection.)

Sculling squad

Ron Needs, who had coached Astrid Ayling and Sue McNuff in the GB double in 1981, and then Astrid and Rosie Mayglothling in 1982, continued coach the women’s crew sculling group, which raced both a quad and a double at various points in the year. Astrid and Rosie were still involved, although Astrid had to return to Germany quite a lot during the season as her father was ailing. Other scullers in the mix included former international Bev Jones from Upper Thames, who had stroked the GB four in 1983 that wasn’t selected for the World Championships; Mary Wilson of Reading RC, who had been training with Beryl on the water over the past two years; Belinda Holmes and Alexa Forbes, who had both rowed in the eight for the past two years; former junior Sandy Lutz from Kingston RC, and Hazel Sims from Newark RC.

Single sculler Beryl Mitchell

1983 would be Beryl’s fifth season as a single sculler. For the previous two and a half years or so she’d been coached by Mark Hayter, a former international sculler himself who was a coach and teacher at Shiplake.

After Beryl’s success in 1981, when she won a historic silver medal at the Worlds, she’d sustained a serious head injury after coming off a toboggan, and had done exceptionally well to recover from this enough to come fourth at the 1982 World Championships. However, as Mark remembers it, during the 1982 season he had felt that he was no longer “getting through to her mentally” as he once had, possibly as a result of what he describes as “alterations” in her personality that he’d observed since her accident. For the 1983 season, Beryl asked Jim Clark, to coach her. Jim was another former international oarsman, who was now developing a career as a coach, and was also husband of Beryl’s great friend and former pairs partner Lin Clark.

The new coaching arrangement suited both Mark and Beryl. “Jim was in a position to be more full time because they lived near to each other which she needed,” he explains, “And I probably needed to spend a bit more time on my duties at Shiplake.”

During the season Beryl experimented with a sliding rigger boat, but raced in a conventional one at the World Championships, after which sliding rigger boats were banned by FISA, rowing’s governing body, on the grounds that the increased cost of these boats, which did seem to be faster, discouraged poorer nations from taking part in the sport.

Superstars

Beryl won Women’s Superstars, a multi-sports event broadcast on BBC1 in March, doing particularly well in the gym tests, cycling and running [no surprise there – Ed.]. She later donated the trophy she won to the National Schools Regatta. Originally called the Ferguson Bowl after the Superstars event’s sponsors, it was renamed the Crockford Bowl in her honour in 2017 following her untimely death in an accident the previous autumn, and is awarded for Girls’ Championship double sculls.

Pre-season training and racing

Fullers’ Head of the River Fours (13 November 1982)

Members of the sculling squad won the coxed quads pennant.

GB women's 4x+

From left: Pauline Wright (cox), Astrid Ayling, Hazel Sims, Belinda Holmes, Rosie Clugston. (Photo © John Shore.)

Training and assessment

Around this time the squad started using Gjessing ergometers for training and assessment. These featured a rod mechanism instead of the bicycle-type chain familiar to users of Concept 2 machines. Kate Holroyd remembers them with little enthusiasm. “If you didn’t keep the rate up, or if you started flagging at all it would get SO heavy, I think because of the fixed bar, which meant there was no run to it. I was like lifting a heavy weight on every stroke. It was a killer!,” she says.

Orange rowing mahine
A Gjessing machine in use. (Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Initial trials were held at Thorpe Park in February but in general, new squad member Tessa Millar recalls, the sweep squad rowed out of the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA) headquarters in Hammersmith. “We were put in various pairs, and if your performance kept being OK, then you stayed in the squad, but as soon as your performance dropped off or your ergos weren’t good enough or you weren’t doing well enough in the pairs or whatever… you weren’t put in bigger crews.” Tessa doesn’t remember being seat-raced at all that year, and says, “I think that I was just lucky enough to be in.”

Women’s Head of the River Race (12 March 1983)

The squad eight won by 15 seconds from the Lea, reversing the previous year’s result where the east London club had humiliated the Amateur Rowing Association crew with a seven second defeat. 50 crews raced after waiting 40 minutes longer than expected at the start while a dredging barge was towed down the course.

Easter assessment weekend (9-10 April 1983)

In typical Nottingham style, the first day of these enjoyed near-perfect conditions, but the final Sunday morning sessions, “Were abandoned amidst rolling waves and murderous oaths,” according to Rowing magazine.

In the single sculls racing, “With the absence through illness of Reading’s Mary Wilson, Beryl Mitchell had only fleeting need to extend herself and scull her sliding-rig Stampfli to comfortable victories,” Rowing reported.

The magazine continued,”[In the pairs,] Lin Clark and Gill Hodges still proved too quick for the others to catch, although the Hammersmith combination of Sally Bloomfield and Kate Holroyd pushed them hard on some occasions. In the afternoon session Gill Parker and Katie Ball of Lea performed well, whilst Nicola Boyes and Kate McNicol showed occasional flashes of the promise they demonstrated at Thorpe in February.”

Lin Clark and Gill Hodges had been the GB pair the previous season, Sally Bloomfield and Kate McNicol were new to the squad this year, Kate Holroyd had been in the eight in 1982 having gained a place in the senior team straight from juniors, Katie Ball was another ex-junior in the senior squad for the first time, and Gill Parker was a former international who was not seeking selection but just helping her young clubmate do so.

While squad hopefuls were vying with each other in Nottingham, scullers not seeking selection that year raced at the Scullers’ Head. Nonie Ray won the women’s pennant, with former international Jean Genchi second, 20 seconds behind her.

Initial selection

Readers will remember that the Selectors had stated at the beginning of the year that ‘experimental’ crews for Vichy, NIR and Amsterdam, would be formed after the Easter trials, with the intent that final crews would then get invaluable race practice together at the National Championships and Lucerne.

No evidence has emerged that the GB women raced at Vichy regatta on 20-21 May, though.

women's eight

A squad eight training in Putney. Rowers from left, Jane Cross, Kate Panter, Kate McNicol, Nicola Boyes, Sarah Hunter-Jones, Kareen Marwick, Gill Bond, Kate Holroyd. (Photo: Kate McNicol’s personal collection.)

A bit about blades

Tessa Millar, who spent the whole of the summer season in the coxed four,  remembers using a new type of composite blades. “They were really very sharp-edged and there were a couple of unfortunate incidents with birds getting hurt in training. They were nice blades to row with, very good in the hand, but they were soon removed from our ‘grip’,” she recalls.

Nottinghamshire International Regatta (4-5 June 1983)

The boats entered at NIR accommodated the facts that the squad vying for selection in the eight and the four had not yet been cut down to 12 people, and the event rarely attracted international-level competition in the eight, and so the group was entered in four fours on the first day to give them tight racing experience. The event was won by the French, with the best of the British crews (stroked by Gill Bond) finishing just three seconds down on them, and the other three GB boats within five seconds of that.

On the Sunday the French won again, with one GB crew stroked by Ruth Howe in second place, 1.9 seconds behind, and another, stroked by Jane Cross just under two seconds behind that.

Rowing observed afterwards that, “A series of seat racing trials had already planned for the week following the NIR regatta,” and the close results, “Showed these were necessary.” However, although re-ordering of crews certainly took place after this, several of the oarswomen from that year’s squad don’t remember there being any actual seat racing.

On the Sunday a GB eight won, but only by two seconds over a Cambridge University Women’s BC crew containing Kareen Marwick and Kate Panter who were also part of the GB squad. The squad crew was G Betty, Sarah Hunter-Jones, Melanie Holmes [or possibly Belinda – Ed.], Jane Cross, Jo Toch, Sally Bloomfield, Kate Holroyd, Gill Bond, and cox Beverley Wilson.

In the pairs, Lin Clark and Gill Hodges enjoyed comfortable wins by 18 and 13 seconds over French squad crews.

Beryl Mitchell won the single sculls by five seconds on the Saturday over a French sculler but, “Came to grief in her sliding rigger [boat] in the rough water on the Sunday,” and lost to the French woman.

In the crew sculling boats, the quad was second on both days behind the French. Conflicting sets of results for the doubles on the Saturday suggest that one or two ARA doubles raced entries from Sweden and Mexico, while a Wallingford crew finished third behind those two overseas entries on the Sunday. Rowing magazine commented, “The British squad quad and double looked as though Ron Needs could do some position changing to improve some of the breakdown in technique that occurred during the weekend’s racing in both boats.”

Amsterdam (25-27 June 1983)

Beryl won, and the photo below shows that the four raced there, but further details have not been unearthed.

Women rowers in Amsterdam

At the Bosbaan course in Amsterdam. From left: Kate McNicol, a Russian, Tessa Millar, Sue Bailey, Kareen Marwick. (Photo: Kate McNicol’s personal collection.)

Lucerne (8-10 July 1983)

At the final preparation regatta before the World Championships, Beryl “performed superbly,” as Rowing magazine put it, and won a silver medal, finishing just behind the East German sculler.

The eight and the four did a lot less well, and members of the four remember Noel Casey leaving the regatta in frustration [possibly with the ARA hierarchy rather than the crews – Ed.], which meant they had to fend for themselves.

Women's four near Putney

Training on the Tideway. From left: Sue Bailey (cox), Katie Ball, Kareen Marwick, Kate McNicol, Tessa Millar. (Photo: Kate McNicol’s personal collection.)

National Championships (16-18 July 1983)

The squad eight notched up a convincing, nine second win over the University of London with the GB juniors third, just two seconds further down. The line-up for the crew was Jo Toch, Sarah Hunter-Jones, Kate Panter, Ruth Howe, Nicola Boyes, Sally Bloomfield, Kate Holroyd, Gill Bond, and cox Beverley Wilson, which was five of the same rowers as had raced in it at NIR.

After being driven up to Nottingham for the Championships by Noel Casey in his Rolls Royce, the squad four of Tessa Millar, Kareen Marwick, Kate McNicol, Katie Ball and cox Sue Bailey also won by nine seconds over Durham University (containing two future internationals), with a composite crew of G Betty, Jane Cross, Melanie Holmes and Gill Parker, coxed by C Grant of Kingston, a 1.5 seconds behind that. G Betty, Jane and Melanie had been dropped from the squad after NIR.

Beryl won the singles, finishing  over 13 seconds ahead of former international Jean Genchi from Lea RC, who beat newcomer Nonie Ray for the silver medal.

Lin Clark and Gill Hodges won the pairs by over 11 seconds.

In the crew sculling events, the squad quad of Bev Jones, Belinda Holmes, Mary Wilson, Alexa Forbes, and cox C Grant won, but a measure of the confusion in the sculling squad at the time was that Belinda and Mary were actually entered in two different crews.

Sandy Lutz and former international Pauline Hart won the doubles ahead of the squad double of Mary Wilson and Belinda Holmes.

Shake-up

The eight

After Nat Champs, according to Rowing,  Allan Inns, the squad co-ordinator resigned, and “Penny Chuter [was] brought in [presumably by the Selection Board – Ed.] to wield the axe in a second bout of seat racing in a month,” and also refers to “Two extensive bouts of seat racing,” which resulted in, “Many late changes to the eight and the four.” Such conviction that seat racing did take place is at odds with the memories of some of the oarswomen interviewed who don’t recall any.

The final changes were that Kareen Marwick and Kate McNicol replaced Jo Toch and Sally Bloomfield in the eight.

The coxed four

Sally decided to withdraw from the squad at that point, and Jean Genchi (who had rowed for GB in 1975 and 1979 and had continued racing after that at top club level) was invited to be the fourth person in the coxed four. Jean had taken part in a couple of selection events during the year as a single sculler, and had been encouraged to do a double with Hazel Sims of Newark at one point. After a couple of outings, this was abandoned, because of the geographical difficulties, and also because Jean really just wanted to focus on her single.

When the call came through, Jean already had plans to race at St Neots regatta at the end of July, but after she’d won women’s elite singles there, she joined the four. “It went so well,” she says. “It was the best four I’ve ever rowed in!” They were coached by Eddie Wells who was a Lea RC member, like Jean, Katie Ball, who stroked, and cox Sue Bailey. Jo Toch remembers being delighted with how the new combination went too, and at how this rather nonplussed those in charge. “We started going just amazingly fast and we knew we were ‘only’ the second boat, but we went faster than expected, so we quite enjoyed that.”

Final selection

The revamped eight, coxed four and Beryl Mitchell in her single scull were selected to go to the World Championships.

The pair of Lin Clark and Gill Hodges wasn’t selected, and after a great deal of ideas had been mooted for sculling crews, neither were a quad or a double.

Eight

B: Kate Holroyd (Bradford ARC)
2: Sarah Hunter-Jones (Thames RC)
3: Nicola Boyes (Civil Service Ladies RC)
4: Ruth Howe (Poplar, Blackwall and District RC)
5: Kate Panter (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
6: Kate McNicol (University of London Women’s BC)
7: Kareen Marwick (Cambridge University Women’s BC)
S: Gill Bond (Imperial College BC)
Cox: Beverley Wilson (Molesey BC)
Coach: Noel Casey

Coxed four

B: Tessa Millar (Thames RC)
2: Jean Genchi (Lea RC)
3: Jo Toch (Burway RC)
S: Katie Ball (Lea RC)
Cox: Sue Bailey (Lea RC)
Coach: Eddie Wells

Single scull

Beryl Mitchell (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
Coach: Jim Clark

Of these 15 competitors, eight (seven oarswomen and one cox) had not competed for GB at a senior Championships before, so new talent had certainly been brought into the squad, although it was almost certainly too high a ratio of new faces to deliver good results. Kate Holroyd was the only member of the eight who had also been in it the previous year, although Nicola Boyes and Sarah Hunter-Jones were former internationals from before that.

Despite the Selectors’ stated desire to involve oarswomen who were not London-based, only the Cambridge students Kareen Marwick and Kate Panter (who had been a junior at Weybridge Ladies ARC) fitted this description even slightly. Although Kate Holroyd was representing Bradford, this is where she’d rowed as a junior, and she actually lived in London where she was a student at University College.

Horses for courses?

Despite being purpose-built, the Wedau course in Duisburg on which the Championships took place was well-known for being particularly unfair in certain wind conditions which caused the water to circulate in such a way that the two outside lanes were actually ‘against the stream’ on what was meant to be a still water course. The difference between the best and worst lanes could be as much as three or four lengths, Desmond Hill claimed in the Telegraph.

To mitigate against this ‘lottery,’ the men’s Chair of Selectors admitted that he had deliberately spread the beast oarsmen across several boats. This approach probably contributed to the openweight men’s team’s even more dismal results than those which led to an enquiry the previous year, never mind dissatisfaction within the team. At least the selection approach for the women’s sweep crews was intended to be on merit rather than gambling.

Training camp in Koblenz

Although the two revamped crews didn’t get a chance to race in their new line-ups before the Worlds, they did, at least, get plenty of time on the water together at a squad training camp based at Astrid Ayling’s original club in Koblenz (Astrid was German but had moved to Britain in 1976 and married British oarsman, blade maker and boatbuilder and later coach Richard Ayling). “It was the best training camp I’ve ever been on,” Jean Genchi says. “It was fantastic. We could row for miles and miles and miles on the Moselle which was lovely, and where we stayed was nearby so we could just walk down to the club.” In their down time between outing the squad borrowed the coaching video camera and filmed a spoof selectors’ announcement. Tragically, a copy has not come to light, though you probably needed to understand the in-jokes at the time to enjoy it to the full, and it was also doubtless totally slanderous.

At the Championships

The conditions in training at Duisburg were quite good, but deteriorated rapidly once racing began, with strong tailwinds, sometimes veering round to create the much-feared ‘flow’ effect.

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Results

Single scull (7th out of 18)

In its preview of the Championships, Rowing magazine described Beryl Mitchell as, “The only bright spark on the horizon,” of GB women’s rowing, adding that she, “Could be in the medals this year if all goes well.” Its up-beat analysis was not shared by Geoffrey Page, who wrote in the Guardian that despite her 1981 silver and “just missing the bronze last year”, “I fear she may have missed her chance of a gold, with some impressive new stars in the ascendancy, while she herself, if it is not too ungallant to say so, is beginning to have a fight against time as well as her rivals.” She was 33.

Which commentator would prove right?

Beryl’s campaign began with a difficult draw in her first race from which only one sculler would progress directly to the semi-final. This spot was taken by the World Champion, Irina Fetissova from Russia (who had got the bronze medal in 1981 when Beryl took the silver), but Beryl finished in second place behind her.

Close up of Beryl sculling

Beryl Mitchell in Duisburg. Her feet are set unusually high, which may be a setup she’d got used to when using her sliding rigger scull earlier in the season as these tend to have higher-set feet for practical reasons. (Photo © John Shore.)

In her repechage, from which three qualified, “She qualified for the semi-final comfortably enough,” according to Maurice Hayes in Rowing, with Desmond Hill of the Daily Telegraph adding, “She had said she intended to do no more than was necessary, and after leading for 700m, dropped to 33 and let the Dane go past.”

Unfortunately, her semi-final draw was also unlucky as it contained three eventual medal winners.

“In a hotly contested race she was third at halfway to the East German and the Russian but tired towards the finish when the American Ginny Gilder went through,” Maurice Hayes reported. Desmond Hill, who described the course as “windswept,” said, “For 750m she defied the worst lane, overlapping the East German and Russian scullers until the American caught her 100m out.” She was 1.36 seconds off qualifying. Geoffrey Page’s prediction turned out to be the most accurate.

Her failure to qualify for the main final was a “grievous blow,” as Richard Burnell described it for Country Life, but she finished the regatta fighting and won the petite final by 0.4 seconds. “Beryl led from start to finish, sculling extremely hard in difficult conditions holding off a strong challenge from the Belgian in the last 200m,” Maurice Hayes wrote, adding, “In this race she looked better than she had all week.”

2 women scullers racing

Beryl Mitchell (furthest from the camera) wins the petite final at the 1983 World Championships to finish seventh overall. (Photo © John Shore.)

Bizarrely, the Romanian, Valeria Racila who was a hot favourite for a medal, having taken the silver the previous year, fell in 150m after the start of the main final.

Coxed four (8th out of 10)

Rowing summarised the GB crew’s performance in the first two rounds by reporting, “In both their heat and repechage the British girls rowed hard and aggressively but obviously lacked the power of their opposition. In their heat they recorded what is thought to be the fastest time ever for a British crew in this event (3.20.08) but were still outclassed by the USA and Canada.” Jo Toch qualifies this by pointing out that, “We just happened to be in a roaring tailwind,” but these can be tricky to row in, so it was a significant achievement.

Desmond Hill added in the Daily Telegraph, that they, “Fought like tigresses to beat the French by two feet,” in the repechage, where they were five seconds off qualifying.

“In the petite final they went all out from the start and just led right up to the line, eventually being caught by Poland in the last two strokes [0.24 seconds],” according to Rowing, which added that, “Considering they were meant to be the second crew to the eight, they performed well above everybody’s expectations.”

Women's 4+ race

The GB four hold on to a slender lead in strong tailwind conditions coming into the last part of the petite final. (Photo © John Shore.)

women on landing stage

The GB women’s eight (and an unidentified Russian in white trousers) look concerned, watching the petite final of the coxed fours. (Photo © John Shore.)

Women carrying boat on landing stage

The four come off the water, disappointed. (Photo © John Shore.)

The photo right at the top of this page is © John Shore and shows the GB women’s four (in the white boat) leading the French in the petite final, but the Poles are challenging out of shot in lane 2.

Eight (8th out of 8)

The eight was last in its four-boat first round, and needed to secure fourth place in the repechage to progress to the main final. Despite achieving this early on in the race, they then dropped back to finish sixth, five seconds off qualifying.

In the petite final they finished second, 0.7 seconds behind West Germany.

women's eights race

Nothing to choose between the British (nearer the camera) and West German eights as they approach the line in the petite final. (Photo © John Shore.)

Desmond Hill concluded in the Daily Telegraph, “The women’s eight are just not strong or heavy enough.”

Writing afterwards in Country Life, Richard Burnell speculated as to whether it might have been better to send only a four from the eight. Although he recognised that this probably wasn’t an option because the need to show the International Olympic Committee that women’s rowing was a thriving rather than a dwindling sport, it was also important to grow the pool of internationally experienced oarswomen available for Olympic selection, even though sending an inexperienced crew was never likely to reap good results. If athletes don’t see that there is any hope of going to a World Championship, they’re not going to train accordingly, and success at a high level in rowing requires years of training at the appropriate level, not just a few months in the run up to an Olympic Games.

Rider-WM Duisburg 1983

Nicola Boyes’ competitors’ medal from the World Championships. (Photo © Helena Smalman-Smith.)

Roundup

1982 had been a low point for GB women’s rowing, and according to the old adage,  ‘if you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results,’ that’s basically what happened in 1983. Sure, all three boats eventually had different coaches from the year before, but nothing had changed structurally, and as the enquiry into 1982 had concluded, for there to be improvements at the top, there first needed to be long-term development work at the base of the pyramid.

The results of that couldn’t possibly come through in time for the 1984 Olympic, but there were some rays of hope. First, more people tend to come forward in Olympic years and this in itself drives up competitiveness and hence achievement within a squad. Second, GB women’s rowing would have a squad co-ordinator again for the first time since 1976, in the form of Rosie Mayglothling, even though she also had considerable development duties at club level.

Writing even before the Championships, Rowing had said that, “It seems much re-thinking is needed next autumn if British women’s rowing isn’t going to falter altogether for the Olympics,” adding, “If the women’s rowing [group] appears in disarray, then the sculling group is non-existent.” The phrase “a bit of a mess” has been used [generously, if you ask me – Ed.] by several of those involved in the sculling squad at the time. “There were all sorts of little factions that year which weren’t dealt with at all well,” Rosie says, “We were in quads, we were in doubles, in this combination, in that combination [the attempt to encourage Hazel Sims of Newark RC and Jean Genchi of Lea RC in east London to double being just one such impractical idea  – Ed.], and in the end none of us did anything.” Having experienced this first hand, she was certainly in no doubt as to the need to being order from chaos. But while organisation, management and even two-way communication are relatively straightforward to put in place, achieving the change of culture required to eradicate the back-stabbing atmosphere that had developed in the absence of strong leadership would be much, much harder.

Another challenge was to bring as much transparency and data as is possible in rowing to the selection process, which Kate Holroyd felt was sorely lacking even though she hadn’t suffered from this personally. “In 1983 there was very much the feeling that selection relied on whether your face fitted, and whether the personalities were right, as opposed to clear seat racing or a system that tracked your performance so you had documentary evidence.” Nicola Boyes agrees, adding that the very fact she was in the eight was an indicator of how selection was not being done well. Unlike the rest of the crew, she says, “I didn’t think I was really earning my place because I wasn’t training properly. I was only in because I’d rowed at the Olympics in 1980. It wasn’t professional – if it had been they wouldn’t have even allowed me in the boat because I wasn’t being professional.”

Although the late-formed coxed four’s achievement in setting a new British record at the World Championships showed that it was one of the best crews the country had ever produced, the rest of the world was generally approaching things more effectively. While Tessa Millar is absolutely right when she says that, “There was no way any British crew at that point compete on equal terms with Eastern bloc crews at the time because the drug testing just hadn’t caught up – it wasn’t who’d got the fastest crew, it was who’d got the best chemist,” the British boats in 1983 were also beaten by other Western nations including West Germany, Denmark, Canada, and the USA.

As Jane Cross, who represented GB in 1980-1982, and was dropped from the squad part way through 1983, rightly points out, “It’s very easy now to belittle what we were doing, but actually it was as good as we could be with what we had.” The oarswomen in the squad were doing what they were told to the best of their abilities. It was the lack of leadership and organisational resource, money, structure, and above all club-level numbers and coaching that were leaving British women’s rowing trailing other countries with whom we could compete fairly.

FISA Junior Championships 1983

A GB junior women’s team of a pair and an eight was selected to race in Vichy.

The pair was probably the most experienced junior international crew ever, with Sue Clark taking part in her third Junior Championships and Sam Wensley her fourth. After passing the half way mark in last place, they overtook the Hungarians and Bulgarians to finish fourth, only a little over three seconds off the bronze medal, achieving GB junior women’s rowing’s best result to date.

The eight was fifth.

Pair

B: Sue Clark (Abingdon RC)**
S: Sam Wensley (Strode’s College BC)***

Eight

B: Rebecca Holmes (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
2: Kim Thomas (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
3: Teresa Stretch (City of Cambridge RC)
4: Andrea Jones (Strode’s College BC)*
5: Allison Barnett (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
6: Lisa Silk (City of Cambridge RC)
7: Sarah Allen (Wallingford RC)
S: Alexandra Sanson (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
Cox: Ali Norrish (Weybridge Ladies ARC)

* Denotes a previous cap in the GB junior team. Andrea Jones had coxed in 1979.

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