1984 saw women taking part for the first time in the FISA Lightweight Championships that had been introduced for men in 1974. The women’s events were a trial designed to prove that women’s lightweight racing could be as competitive as other categories despite it being theoretically slightly slower.
Although only semi-official, these women’s lightweight races have historic significance because they were the first women’s races under FISA auspices to take place over 2,000m, showing that that was viable too, and thus opening the way for all women’s racing to move to that distance in 1985.
1984 was also the only occasion when there was a FISA race for lightweight women’s eights. The other boat categories were coxless fours (the first time women had raced these internationally as openweight international women’s fours remained coxed until 1989), double sculls and single sculls.
In total, 41 women’s crews from seven countries raced at the Championships which took place from 23-26 August at the Olympic Basin in Montreal.
In order to ensure that there were enough entries to stage a viable test event, countries were allowed to enter more than one crew, and several did so in the small boats. Five of the 11 coxless fours were from Canada, for example. Both the USA and Canada had thriving lightweight women’s programmes as part of their collegiate rowing scenes.
The weight limits that had to be met in Montreal were those still used today (maximum crew average of 57kg and individual weight of 59kg) although Penny Chuter, who was on the FISA Women’s Commission at the time, remembers that West Germany, which had the largest domestic women’s lightweight programme in Europe at the time, used heavier limits than 57kg/59kg, and pressed for their weight limits to be adopted. Penny, on the other hand, argued strongly that, “There’s no rationale to have a separate lightweight classification unless there’s was a clear gap.”
At Montreal Penny and others conducted and anthropomorphic study of the female athletes competing, measuring things such as height and arm span as well as weight to ensure that the category was sufficiently different from the competitors in openweight, and it was on the basis of this data that FISA subsequently confirmed 57kg/59kg as the limits.
The development of GB women’s lightweight rowing in 1984
Britain supported the new racing programme wholeheartedly to the extent that crews were entered for every available event. However, the competitors paid all of their expenses themselves – the eight ran discos and jumble sales to help raise funds – and although the crews and results for the women’s events at the FISA Championships are listed on the FISA website WorldRowing.com, there is no mention whatsoever of the women’s lightweight racing in the British Rowing Almanack that covers 1984, and neither was it covered at all by the independent Rowing magazine.
The lightweights were involved alongside the openweights at the November and December trials. With no funding available for the team, ready-made club units were selected for the four and the double, but the eight, coached by Mike Genchi, was formed as a composite. Administratively, Rosie Mayglothling “was very much instrumental in getting it all together,” lightweight double sculler Teresa Stretch remembers.
Although only one of the four ARA entries at the Women’s Head in March is marked in the results as being lightweight, Teresa recalls that there were two crews drawn from the lightweight squad; one made up of the main contenders for the eventual lightweight eight, and the other containing the scullers, like her, and other individuals.
The women’s lightweight squad had limited opportunities to race at lightweight in preparation for the FISA Championships, although Nottinghamshire International and the National Championships did include some events for them. At NIR this was limited to single sculls. On each occasion two un-named ARA squad scullers came first and second (although they apparently swapped positions on the second day), four and then three seconds apart, with Angela Lund from Durham ARC in third place in what were the first 2,000m multi-lane races for women in the UK.
Nat Champs offered lightweight single sculls and coxless fours over 2,000m. Carol Ann Wood won the singles by eight seconds from Angela Lund. Stern four of the lightweight eight won the coxless fours by seven seconds from the Cambridge University crew which was selected as the GB coxless four. The first Oxford-Cambridge lightweight women’s boat race had taken place in 1984 too.
With no lightweight category available, the lightweight double raced in openweight, and finished second behind two of the quad which had raced at Lucerne in an unsuccessful attempt to gain Olympic selection.
The GB team at the Championships
All of the British crews raced in boats they borrowed in Canada.
Eight (6th out of 8)
B: Laura Jenkinson (Twickenham RC)
2: Sheila Harrington (Twickenham RC)
3: Stella Kaye (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
4: Carol Rapley (Twickenham RC)
5: Lindsey Montague (Kingston RC)
6: Sally-Ann Petrie (Twickenham RC)
7: Clare Carpenter (Lea RC)
S: Melanie Holmes (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
Cox: Andrea Harling (Lea RC)
Melanie had already represented GB as a junior and an openweight senior, and Clare had been a GB junior.
Coxless four (9th out of 11)
B: Mary Phillips (Cambridge University WBC)
2: Jane Fullam (Cambridge University WBC)
3: Stephanie Bew (Cambridge University WBC)
S: Louise Makin (Cambridge University WBC)
Double scull (10th out of 11)
B: Nerys Jones (City of Cambridge RC)
S: Teresa Stretch (City of Cambridge RC)
Teresa had been in the GB junior eight the previous year.
Single scull (9th out of 11)
Carol Ann Wood (Furnivall SC)
Lin Clark, who had represented GB at openweight most years since 1974, finished seventh in the singles. As mentioned earlier, just getting enough entries was a priority for the regatta’s organisers, and as the women’s races weren’t an official World Championships, the usual rules about only one entry per boat class per country being permitted were therefore waived and, in addition, Lin’s husband Jim remembers that direct, individual entries were accepted. As her relationship with the ARA had broken down at the time, she wasn’t racing as GB, so she raced as her club, Sons of the Thames RC, rather than as a country. Somewhat strangely, the FISA website has her down as representing Canada, which may simply be because the page uses a template that requires a country to be selected, and Canada was the host.
Her winning time in the petite final was ten seconds faster than that of the Japanese sculler who came sixth in the main final and, in fact, would have place her fourth in that race. On the face of it, this seems odd, but the reason was that Lin made a racing error in the repechage from which only one sculler would go through. “The Japanese girl went off the start really fast and got ahead of me, and I didn’t notice,” Lin explains. “I was racing the people behind me, making sure I stayed ahead, but I hadn’t counted them. I remember thinking afterwards that I’d been rowing all this time and still made a stupid mistake like that! I wasn’t even tired because I was just doing what I needed to do to stay in front of what I thought was everyone else.”
Angela Lund of Durham ARC finish tenth as the third US entry.
A positive outcome for women’s lightweight racing
With the women’s lightweight events proving both popular and competitive, FISA voted at its Extraordinary Congress in January 1985 to include racing in coxless fours, double sculls and single sculls in its programme from 1985.
This development would prove decisive for the GB women’s international rowing medal tally.
Hitherto FISA had resisted either lightweight or junior racing being called ‘World Championships’ on the grounds that there could not be more than one World Champion per boat class. It also elected to abandon this view at the Extraordinary Congress and from 1985 the lightweight events were part of the World Rowing Championships as a whole, whilst the junior regatta was renamed the Junior World Rowing Championships.