The 1986 World Rowing Championships took place in Nottingham from 17 to 23 August. 59 openweight and 29 lightweight crews took part from 25 countries – almost exactly the same numbers as the previous year.
The other major event of 1986 for British crews was the Commonwealth Games which included women’s rowing for the first time (in fact the only official occasion, as subsequently the Commonwealth Rowing Championships were run in conjunction with the Games but were not part of the official programme). The regatta was held at Strathclyde Country Park near Glasgow from 25-29 July.
Coaching and squad formation
1985 had been a stunning season for the GB lightweight squad, with Lin Clark and Beryl Mitchell winning gold, and the coxless four coming fourth at the first World Championships to include women’s lightweight events. However, it had been a pretty dreadful year for the openweight group: only four of the 14 sweep rowers had had prior international experience, and after dismal results, most of the new faces (many of whom were in the ‘development’ eight) didn’t continue into 1986.
Instead of trying to bring in more new blood again in 1986, the squad – once it finally got going, and more on this shortly – retrenched, and was basically eight women, all but two of whom were former internationals, and one of those (Pauline Bird) was on a ‘comeback’ year, having been off the international scene since the 1980 Moscow Olympics. While this could have been a calculated choice (based on the old adage that if you keep doing the same thing – e.g. forming an eight almost entirely from inexperienced oarswomen – you’ll keep getting the same results), it seems more to have been ’emergent strategy’ based on practical necessity due to a lack of up-and-coming oarswomen of a high enough standard feeding into the system. While this approach worked to an extent for 1986, it did very little to develop GB women’s rowing for the future.
Many of the oarswomen of the era feel that one major problem the openweight squad faced was a lack of coaching continuity from year to year and 1986 was no exception; as late as the beginning of March 1986, Penny Chuter, Director of Coaching for the whole of GB rowing, wrote to all of the potential openweight women admitting, “The Women’s Scheme has not got underway this winter as it should have due to the difficulty in finding a Chief Coach.” Eventually, Mike Genchi was appointed Chief Coach for the Openweight Women. Jim Clark was Chief Coach for the Lightweight Women. Mike had coached the lightweight four the previous year, when Jim had been coaching professionally in Italy. The two were good friends, and as Mike says, it fitted in neatly for Jim to take over the lightweights, of whom his wife Lin was one, and for Mike to move to the openweight group.
There was some perception at the time that as the lightweights had much greater medal prospects, they would be the group of choice for coaches seeking success, but Mike didn’t see it that way and says, “It didn’t make a difference to me, it’s all just coaching.”
Katie Ball, who had been a member of the team from 1983 to 1985, started the 1986 season rowing in the squad, but switched to coaching around Easter time, and worked with Mike to look after the eight-woman squad which formed a pair and a four that then doubled up into an eight with two others. “She was good and a great help to me,” he remembers. “While I was taking one boat she’d take another. It was too much for one person otherwise.”
Having won the lightweight double with Lin Clark the previous year, Beryl Crockford, who had spent five years as the GB openweight single sculler from 1980-1984, opted to ‘go it alone’ once again and was coached by her husband, Duncan, although as he explains, ” I wrote all the training programmes, but otherwise it was more a collaboration than a strict coach/athlete demarcation.” She spent a lot of the year training out of Lensbury Club in Teddington, at the bottom of the Kingston reach of the Thames, who gave her and Duncan membership for the year. This was a real boost, he remembers, “Beryl kept her boat in their little boathouse there so we could get access to descent water and relax in the clubhouse and enjoy good, cheap food.” There were a couple of challengers for the lightweight singles spot, but Beryl was selected early in the summer season after putting in a very good performance at Ghent regatta.
There was a lot more competition for the remaining six seats in the small squad, at least numerically, with nearly 80 hopefuls attending the first assessment weekend in Nottingham in February, according to Rowing magazine. Most of these didn’t progress much further although a second lightweight four raced at Nottinghamshire International Regatta.
Rowing also commented that after the February assessment Lin Clark was, “Hoping to find a suitable partner to retain the gold medal she won with Beryl last year.” She initially doubled with Gill Hodges (with whom she had raced an openweight pair at the World Championships in 1982), but the duo then became the stern of the coxless four instead, rowing with Alexa Forbes (who had been in the 1984 Olympic eight), and Judith Burne (a former junior international who had then stroked the senior eight in 1985). Judith looks back on the 1986 season fondly, and particularly remembers enjoying being coached by Jim. “He used to tell us he found women difficult to coach but I thought he was very good. In fact, he was one of my all time favourite coaches because he was straight with us,” she says.
After Beryl had secured the singles slot, Carol-Ann Wood, known as Carrie, who had been the GB lightweight sculler in 1984 and 1985, formed a double with Gill Bond, coached by Bill Mason, the Chief Coach at Imperial College, who had already been working with Gill for some time.
Like the openweight group, the lightweight athletes selected in the end were all very experienced; all of them had rowed for GB before, and six out of the seven had done so at openweight.
As the lightweights were the only squad formally training together under a coach over the winter, openweight Pauline Bird remembers that she and Tessa Millar went to their land training sessions. “We followed their programme, which meant we did a lot of running and stuff like that, and probably I was the fittest I ever was actually. It was a very, very good programme. No question.”
An initial assessment weekend was held on 15-16 March at Thorpe Park, followed by trials at Nottingham, which candidates had to enter as pre-formed/self-organised pairs. Tessa Millar and Pauline Bird had trained together for this, but after the races on the first day, which both of them remember winning, Tessa was dropped and Pauline (who had rowed for GB from 1974 to 1980, had no particular interest in doing so again, and was only there to help Tessa), was asked to row with Fiona ‘Flo’ Johnston for the second day’s races.
“We were given about an hour or so to paddle around in the pair, and it turned out to be one of those combinations that are just amazing from the get go. Flo had just such a fluid way of rowing; she was so, well, flowy! She was an amazing, amazing person to row with and it just went absolutely brilliantly,” Pauline remembers. “We were doing 1,000m or 1,500m pieces, so I said to her, ‘We’ve got to do is really get the start nailed.’ So we worked for a bit on the start and it was just the easiest trials I’ve ever done. We won the subsequent pair trials the next morning by what felt like half the course! So I spent the summer rowing with Flo and it was a fabulous and hugely positive experience. I really, really enjoyed it, which was probably the first year ever. And it was huge fun.”
Some of the openweight group went on an Easter training camp in Naples that was privately organised by Katie Ball who had a friend there and arranged for them to borrow boats from the local club.
Compared with the previous year, there was enough funding for the openweight squad to race abroad at international regattas, but this was not extended to the lightweights, despite their better results at the 1985 World Championships.
The ARA President launched an appeal for £45k to fund the junior and lightweight (men’s and women’s) international teams. It may be inaccurate to say that this appears to have been limited to asking members of the rowing community to send in donations, but it’s not clear what other fundraising activities the appeal involved. As there seems to have been no reporting of its success, a reasonable conclusion is that it wasn’t.
All three lightweight women’s crews eventually got some commercial sponsorship from support from the Regency Life Assurance Company, a deal which included earrings for all of them in the shape of an italic letter R which was company’s logo.
Racing over the winter
Before all of this got going, though, the potential squad members just got on with their own racing. The sculling head season had kicked off in October Marlow Long Distance, which was won by four-times international Belinda Holmes. A week later at Weybridge Ladies, 1983 heavyweight international Gill Bond, who had turned lightweight, took the honours with Heather Brown second, Rhian Davies third, 1984 Olympian Kate Holroyd (back on the scene after spending the 1985 season abroad for her degree) fourth, Belinda fifth, Flo Johnston sixth, Aggie Barnett seventh, and 1960 international Pauline Rayner ninth. With a bit more training in her legs, Kate then won Walton Small Boats Head in December.
Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (8 March 1986)
For the first time since before the Second World War, the Women’s Eights Head was rowed over the full 4.25 mile course. [One more ridiculous anachronism sorted – Ed.]
The winning crew, which not surprisingly set a new course record and was also 27 seconds faster than second-placed Thames RC and 39 seconds ahead of third-placed Oxford, comprised GB oarswomen who were all training independently in pairs, but came together for a small number outings coached by Richard Ayling and Steve Gunn who also arranged for them to use a boat and blades from Hampton School where he worked. Many-times international Adrian Ellison coxed. As this was a private enterprise, they raced as a composite of their clubs – Abingdon/Borough Road/ Kingston/ Marlow/Thames – not the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA) or GBR National Squad.
Early-season international regattas
Ghent Regatta (10-11 May 1986)
Beryl Crockford had a promising start to her season, coming second in the lightweight single sculls on the Saturday and winning on the Sunday, beating the Belgian champion Rita Defauw, who had come fourth at the World Championships the previous year. Duncan Crockford remembers that a regatta official inadvertently helped her turn silver into gold on the second day:
She’d had a race fairly late on the Saturday and when the draw came out for racing the following day she was scheduled for an early race against the local heroine Defauw. She’d got it into her head that there was some FISA rule about minimum amount of time between races and she went storming off to Regatta Control. The Belgian official was having none of it and condescendingly said to her, ‘If you don’t think you’re up to it, I can take your withdrawal now.’
Beryl always raced best when she was in a ‘bloody minded strop’ and had a point to prove, so need I say more?! She was livid and was going to punish anyone who dared get on the water with her. She blasted off the start, got in front, and from there her strategy was to listen out for the Belgian coach; each time he called out to his athlete, Beryl sprinted.
Carrie Wood also competed in the same event, and Gill Bond raced too, winning a medal although it’s not clear in what event. Claire Parker and Rhian Davies came second in lightweight doubles, racing as the ARA.
The openweight eight won on the Saturday with domestic British opposition second and third, but was beaten on the Sunday by a young German crew. The openweight coxed four was second on both days, again behind Germans.
Nottinghamshire International Regatta (31 May-1 June 1986)
For many years, NIR had struggled to attract many overseas entries, but the men’s events featured a higher than usual number of overseas international crews seeking familiarity with the venue before the World Championships there in August. The same was not true of the women’s racing, though, which saw the GB openweight women romping home in their four, pair and eight on both days, ahead of non-international opposition. The lightweight coxless four took two golds, and the new lightweight double of Gill Bond and Carol-Ann Wood won by eight seconds over a Belgian squad crew on the Saturday. Beryl got two silvers in the lightweight singles, finishing on both days behind the Belgian sculler whom she’d beaten on the Sunday of Ghent. A second lightweight four of Sally-Ann Panton, Jo Toch, Stephanie Bew and one other also raced.
Flo and Pauline won the pairs on the Saturday by nine seconds over squad mates Kate Grose and Ali Bonner who, in turn, were 10 seconds ahead of the club composite of Jackie Prout (Sons of the Thames RC) and 1984 Olympian Ruth Howe (Lea RC), of whom more on in due course. On the Sunday Flo and Pauline won by 11 seconds over Jackie and Ruth with the Under 23 Borough Road/Abingdon composite of Sam Wensley and Sue Clark in third place.
The coxed four won over a French crew by 13 seconds on the Saturday and 16 seconds on the Sunday. According to the results section of Rowing magazine, the same crew of Ann Callaway, Kate Holroyd, Ali Bonner and Kate Grose, coxed by Ali Norrish, raced on both days. This may have been the crew entered and therefore showing in the programme, but the photo below has Jo Gough at bow rather than Kate Grose.
Subsequent seat racing for this crew amongst the six members of the eight other than the pair saw Ali Bonner replaced by Tish Reid, who was moved into the stroke seat of both this boat and the eight, “Which was a major surprise to everybody, particularly me,” she remembers.
The openweight eight won by 23 seconds over a Lea RC composite on the Saturday, but scratched on the Sunday when the event was won by a similar amount, this time over Thames RC, by a crew comprising the two lightweight fours which was coxed by former international Pauline Wright.
Ratzeburg (21-22 June 1986)
The openweight pair won on the Saturday, of which, Pauline Bird says, “Winning at Ratzeburg had been my ambition for ever!” (She’d first raced there in 1974 as a 16-year old.)
The eight and the four also picked up a medal each over the two days. The eight’s win on the second day was rather unexpected. “We were supposed to be leaving immediately we got off the water to get back to the airport and then to everyone’s surprise we needed to be at the medal ceremony, but there wasn’t time for us to go to that because it was somewhere else, so they actually came and gave us our medals on the landing stage,” Tish Reid recalls, adding, that this first experience of doing well internationally was a key moment for her and that she remembers thinking, “Ooh, right, this is what it’s like to win!”
Amsterdam (27-29 June 1986)
Only the lightweights competed here. The coxless four won, Beryl was second in singles, again behind the Belgian De Fauw, and the double came third.
Lucerne (11-13 July 1986)
Lucerne regatta experimented with an unusual format in 1986, involving a 500m event and a 2,000m event. The 500m heats were on the Friday, afternoon, 2.000m heats on Saturday morning, 500m finals on Saturday afternoon, and 2,000m finals on Sunday morning. Designed to produce a more exciting spectacle for TV, it was so unpopular with the competitors that it was never again repeated.
“The lightweight women’s coxless four took the new event of the sprint and the 2,000m at Lucerne Regatta in superb style,” Katie Ball reported in Rowing magazine. They were the only British crew across the men’s and women’s teams to win on both days. She added, “In the sprint they won by one second over 1985 World Champions West Germany who were over rating the British girls by four pips! On the Sunday they battled out a tight race to win by a length [in] a new world record!”
Katie went on, “The lightweight double of Carrie Wood and Gill Bond snatched a late bronze behind two West German crews who were battling it out in front. The row was not as sharp as they can be and [we] are confident of a better performance in the World Championships.” The GB crew was only two seconds behind the winners.
“Beryl Crockford, battling in the toughest lightweight event took a well-earned bronze medal behind the Belgian [again] who was being chased hard by the Romanian,” in the lightweight single sculls, Katie also wrote, although Beryl was ten seconds behind the gold medallist. Another British sculler in the lightweight event finished fifth in the 2,000m race, 15 seconds down on Beryl.
The eight was third in both the 2,000m event in which there were only three crews, and the sprint. In the full-distance race they were 15 seconds behind the winners. The coxed four of Tish Reid, Kate Holroyd, Ann Callaway and Jo Gough, finished fifth on both days, 19 seconds down on the outstanding Romanian crew that won the 2,000m event. Rowing magazine commented that the eight looked better than the small boats, and Chris Dodd described the two crews in the Guardian as having taken “a pounding”.
The openweight group had gone out to Lucerne early for a training camp before the regatta, arguably meaning that they were quite tired when they came to race, albeit well-prepared. This, as well as the fact that the pair and four were doubling up, may have had some bearing on what Fiona Johnston and Pauline Bird in the pair then did; despite having entered both events, they only raced the 500m sprint and scratched from the 2,000m race. As Jackie Prout remembers it, the official squad pair was drawn in the same heat of the 2,000m race as her and Ruth Howe, who were subsequently told that the squad crew had decided to concentrate on the 500m final, a concept which all concerned agree is quite odd given this wasn’t the international distance for which they were preparing.
Flo Johnston remembers, “We were being hunted down all season by Jackie and Ruth who really, really didn’t agree that we should be the pair and they wanted to have a chance at it, and it all came to a head at Lucerne.”
Jackie and Ruth were operating independently; Ruth had had a year off after rowing at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and for reasons which Jackie has forgotten, decided that instead of taking part in the formal trials process the duo would just enter domestic and international regattas (at the time, crews had to get the approval of their national federation to enter, but didn’t have to be part of a national team) to see how they fared against Pauline and Flo. Having been a good 20 seconds off the squad pair at NIR and then, as Jackie remembers it, closer in Ratzeburg, they were keen to test their increasing speed against them in Lucerne, with the hope that they might at least be given the pairs slot at the Commonwealth Games as the GB pair was also in the eight there.
The two crews did meet, however, in the final of the 500m sprint, in which Bird-Johnston finished fifth, and Prout-Howe were sixth, just 1.35 seconds behind them, having rowed the heat of the 2,000m that morning. Although this was fairly decisive over such a short distance, Jackie and Ruth eventually persuaded the squad management that they should get the opportunity to race the others over the full distance, it was agreed that the two crews should do a private race-off over 2,000m on the Monday while they were all still in Lucerne and had access to a decent course. Neither pair was entirely happy about this solution, though for different reasons. Jackie and Ruth were annoyed because the decision was only made after their boat had been loaded on a club trailer and gone back to Britain, so they had to row in a borrowed one. Pauline didn’t see why they should have to race at all, Flo recalls, although she herself wanted to so that they could “put the issue to bed once and for all”. When it came to the race, Flo says, “Because Pauline was so cross about the whole thing she went for it massively, so I could barely keep up with her! I was just hanging on for dear life, and I think we beat them fairly resoundingly.”
This was the end of Jackie and Ruth’s international aspirations for the season, although Jackie remembers that, “We went out for the odd outing in the eight when they needed subs.” They were designated as the non-travelling spares for the World Championships. These being in Nottingham, they went anyway at their own – albeit modest – expense.
Figuring it out during the race
Kate Grose and Ali Bonner, the two remaining members of the eight, also raced a pair at Lucerne, and rowers of today who are used to surge meters and GPS-enabled ‘strokecoaches’ that give them rate, speed and times will be amused or perhaps horrified that, Kate (at bow) had to count strokes while watching 15 seconds tick by on her watch (attached to her rowing shoes) and then do some quick arithmetic to calculate the rate. This led, she remembers, to her calling “28, up three!,” at one point in the race, immediately realising she’d done the maths wrong, and so following this with, “Sorry, 33, down 2!”
National Championships (18-20 July 1986)
The GB team didn’t compete at the National Championships because of their proximity to the Commonwealth Games the following week, although the England double scull of Diane Prince (Pengwern) and Clare Parker (University of Birmingham) did race at both, winning the gold at the Nationals.
Jackie and Ruth won the pairs by 19 seconds from a field of 14.
Commonwealth Games (25-29 July 1986)
As this account is about the GB World Championships team, this section focuses on the GB squad’s involvement in the Commonwealth Games rather than reporting the experiences of all home nations crews.
The GB eight, coxed four, pair, lightweight coxed four and lightweight single sculler Beryl Crockford all represented England. For 36-year old Beryl, competing at the Commonwealths was a major reason why she had not retired after finally winning World gold the previous year.
There was no event for lightweight double sculls and as GB didn’t have an openweight double that year, it was suggested that the lightweight crew should do that instead. Although she lived in London, Carrie Wood was actually Scottish and refused to represent England, so she did the lightweight single for Scotland while Gill Bond took the openweight singles slot for England, and Diane Prince and Claire Parker became the England double.
Jo Toch, who was lightweight but had previously represented GB at openweight, including at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, went as the spare for both groups in the England team.
The stars of British women’s rowing at the Commonwealth Games were the women’s lightweight four which won by over two lengths from a field of six crews, followed by Australia and Canada. Wales were fourth, Scotland fifth and Northern Ireland sixth. Watch to the end of the video below to see the medal ceremony.
Lin Clark remembers, “From the time we took off we knew we were going to win. We’d been racing quite well all year, and there was no reason to suggest we wouldn’t. But even though we were only racing Commonwealth crews, I was nervous because we could blow it. I’d never really ever gone into a race EVER in my life thinking, actually we should be winning this. So that was a mental challenge. It’s easier to go and hang on but it’s not so easy to go in there as a favourite. But when we started to row the opposition didn’t really feature, so it was fine.”
“I was happy we’d won but we all knew it wasn’t major,” says Judith Burne, who stroked the crew. “It was a step forward, but we knew there were the West Germans and the Americans whom we’d have to worry about at the Worlds.”
The pair took the silver medal, finishing eight seconds behind Canada but a long way clear of the Australians and the fourth-placed Scottish crew of Fiona Freckleton and Morag Simpson.
Pauline remembers, “The conditions were absolutely unspeakable with an incredibly strong cross-tailwind and at the start they had a line of buoys with loops on the top that the bow person had to hang on to just to keep the boat straight – hard enough in an eight but awful in a pair. It seemed SUCH a shoddy solution!” Given the conditions, it wasn’t surprising that, “The pair didn’t produce their usual fast start,” as Katie Ball reported for Rowing.
Off the water, both members of the pair really enjoyed the multi-sport nature of the Commonwealth Games. For Pauline, who had taken part in two Olympic Games, going to the opening ceremony was fun, but for Flo it was even more than that. After the 1984 Los Angeles Games she’s seen an open-topped bus tour in her home town of Marlow, celebrating local hero Steve Redgrave’s gold medal, and this had made her determined to get to an Olympics herself. “Going into the opening ceremony in Edinburgh was one of those kind of epiphany moments like when I’d seen Steve on top of the bus and I thought, ‘OK, I really need to go to an Olympics now because it would be like this but even bigger because everybody would be there. It really whetted my appetite for doing an Olympics,” she says.
The eight was also second, less than two seconds behind Australia and well clear of Canada, but didn’t get a medal because the Commonwealth Games rules require you to have beaten at least two other boats to get one, and there were only three entries. “It was actually a very good race,” Tish remembers; Katie Ball agreed, describing them as “having rowed their best” in Rowing magazine.
In the coxed fours England got the bronze medal with Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland finishing quite close together in fourth, fifth and sixth places, a fair way behind the English/GB four.
Mike Genchi was pleased with his squad and says, “They were well up to speed against their counterparts so that was a really proud moment for them all.”
Gill Bond took the bronze in the openweight single sculls in difficult conditions.
The double, coached by Rosie Mayglothling, came third too but didn’t get a medal because there were only four entries. The Scottish double of Amanda Towrie and Fiona Nowak was fourth.
In the lightweight single sculls, which was a classy race, Beryl Crockford came fourth behind the reigning World Champion in the event from Australia (Adair Ferguson), future World Champion Philippa Baker of New Zeaand (who would also go on to win the openweight doubles at the Words twice), and future Olympic sculler Heather Hattin of Canada. Carol-Ann Wood was fifth for Scotland, and Rhian Davies sixth for Wales.
The rough conditions are plain to see toward the end of this video of the race:
One memorable piece of commentary from the finish tower that is not captured on film was a remark along the lines of, ‘Pat Reid and the girls there on the rowing lake showing us how it’s done.’ “Tish Reid especially hated being called ‘Pat’ and was very vocal that we should be called ‘women’ rather than ‘girls’,” Pauline Bird remembers, “So you can imagine her face when we heard that one!”
Final GB selection
The crews which were selected for the World Championships were basically those which had been racing all summer with the exception of the coxed four which was changed again with Kate Grose now replacing Kate Holroyd.
B: Fiona Johnston (Marlow RC)
2: Pauline Bird (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
3: Kate Grose (Thames RC)
4: Ali Bonner (Oxford University Women’s BC)
5: Kate Holroyd (Kingston RC)
6: Ann Callaway (Kingston RC)
7: Jo Gough (Oxford University Women’s BC)
S: Tish Reid (Oxford University Women’s BC)
Cox: Ali Norrish (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
Coach: Mike Genchi
B: Jo Gough (Oxford University Women’s BC)
2: Ann Callaway (Kingston RC)
3: Kate Grose (Thames RC)
S: Tish Reid (Oxford University Women’s BC)
Cox: Ali Norrish (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
Coach: Mike Genchi
Lightweight coxless four
B: Alexa Forbes (Tideway Scullers School)
2: Gill Hodges (Tideway Scullers School)
3: Lin Clark (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
S: Judith Burne (University of London WBC)
Coach: Jim Clark
Lightweight double scull
Lightweight single scull
Beryl Crockford (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
Coach: Duncan Crockford
At the World Championships
Nottingham was so (typically) windy in the days before the Championships started that crews couldn’t use the full length of the lake when they were training. After a cross-wind caused unfairness between lanes on the first day of the repechages, when more wind was forecast for the next day, the start of racing was brought forward to 7.30am. Fortunately, the weather men had got it wrong, and the conditions were actually excellent from then on.
Princess Anne visited on the Friday.
Lightweight double sculls (2nd out of 9)
“In the opening heat [of four crews from which only one would progress straight to the final] the British double drew the West Germans, winners at Lucerne [where GB had got bronze], and another strong double, the Belgians,” Katie Ball reported in Rowing. “As the heat progressed it appeared that West Germany had settled for the repechage, and left GB and the Belgians to battle it out.” Jim Railton described in The Times how in a “fierce” struggle, “the British double… just lifted their rate sufficiently to win by a bare third of a length.” Their time was faster than that of the other heat winners.
“In the final,” Katie Ball continued, “The Belgians shot out to lead by several lengths and the British lay at the back of the pack, rowing steadily with the low rate of 30. The Belgians began to wither and the USA… took the lead. The GB crew were always within 2.5 seconds of the leader and as crews began to fade, pulled up into third and then joint second position with the Dutch [who had beaten the Brits by five seconds in Amsterdam]. The Dutch pushed for silver and the British girls continued at a steady rate, frustrating the spectators. The Dutch may have gone too early, for as they came to the finish line the British had drawn level again and [the two crews] went over together.” As far as Gill’s concerned, it was the way they paced the race that enabled them to win their medal. “Carrie generally stroked at a lower rate, but we were still in touch so when we got to the last 250m we were able to go hell for leather and that’s why we were able to come back,” she reflects
Richard Burnell reported for the Times, in a piece entitled “British girls tie for historic silver,” [the “historic” refers to the unprecedented dead heat rather than the fact that this was the first time a GB crew had medalled in two consecutive years in the same event – Ed.] how, “In the last 500m it was the United States, the Netherlands and Britain , but then the British girls launched their attack. It seemed they were too late but, underterred, they inched up to draw level on the very last stroke.” In a similar vein, Geoffrey Page, writing probably in the Telegraph, described how, in a “thrilling finish”, “The British girls overhauled the tenacious Dutch double inch by inch and drew a wildly cheering crowd to its feet… The camera could not separate the crews and for the first time in a senior world championship, both crews were awarded silver medals.”
Some time later, Di Ellis who was an official at the Championships, sent Carrie and Gill printouts of the photo finish picture, which shows them actually to be fractionally ahead. Carrie remembers her explaining that had they been able to print the photo to that level of resolution at the time, they would have been awarded the silver medal outright.
When it came to the medal ceremony, because the Organising Committee didn’t have a spare set of silver medals, each crew was given one silver and one bronze medal. After the formal presentation, the British crew gave both their silvers to the Dutch on the grounds that as they were in the same country as the event, it would be easier for a second set of silvers to be posted to them.
The film below shows the lightweight double and then the lightweight four in their finals and then receiving their medals.
Lightweight coxless four (2nd out of 8)
“The GB coxless four came to Nottingham as firm favourites for the gold,” Katie Ball wrote in Rowing. “The only unknown opposition was the American crew; the rest of the field they had all beaten. In the heat [from which only one would qualify directly for the final] they drew the Americans and were able to get a taste of their speed.” Although Britain won, the result was less meaningful than they would have liked as, in the last quarter of the race, “The Americans caught an enormous crab and the British rowed through to go direct to the final.” Judith Burne feels this may actually have helped the American crew in the long run; “We went straight through to the finals, but they had to do another race which helped them, actually, because it gave them another chance to practise getting their act together under pressure.”
“In the final,” Katie continued, “The British and Americans led the field and were level at 1,000m with West Germany and Australia close behind. In the next 500m the USA began to inch away. The British hauled a quarter of a length back but the Americans went again and the British couldn’t answer this; in the last 250m they stretched the lead to over a length to take the gold.” The British held off a late charge by West Germany, described by Richard Burnell in the Times as “a savage attack”, to keep second place by just 0.28 seconds.
After the crew had done so well at Lucerne, second place was a disappointment (a new concept for British women’s rowing) who came to the championships “with their sights set on gold” as Geoffrey Page put it in the Telegraph, especially for Lin Clark who had come to the Championships as a reigning world Champion, and it must not have been much consolation that she became the first British woman to medal in consecutive years.
Coxless pair (6th out of 10)
The progression system for Pauline and Flo’s heat of five crews also involved just one going direct to the final. They came third, putting them in one of the two four-boat repechage, from each of which two would qualify for the final.
Here they drew Australia, whom they’d beaten at Lucerne in the 500m sprint – the Australians who had finished 11 seconds behind them at the Commonwealth Games had been a different crew, as well as both East and West Germany. “From the start neither East nor West Germany pulled away and the British crew sat only half a length down,” Katie Ball wrote in Rowing. “As the race progressed, the West Germans began to realise the British pair weren’t going to drop, and they began to look stodgy. The British began to pressurise them and in the last 300m they rowed through [to second] for a place in the final.”
Although the pair finished sixth in the final, Katie felt that their achievement should encourage others to believe that, “Making the final has at last begun to be a more realistic prospect for British girls,” And Mike Genchi is quick to point out that, “There hadn’t been many women’s boats that had made the final at that time, so that was quite a breakthrough for them.” They were actually only the fourth openweight crew (as opposed to single sculler Beryl) who had achieved this other than by default in the 13 since the World Championships/Olympic Games started including women’s events in 1974. Pauline had, of course, been in the first British boat to make a World Championships final in 1977 in the double scull with Astrid Ayling.
A rare colour photo of the pair racing can be seen here.
Eight (6th out of 6)
The plan to double up the pair and the four into the eight gambled on the eight having a straight final as it had the previous year, and this turned out to be the case; far from satisfactory for FISA, but convenient for the British team.
However, there had been an expectation that Pauline and Flo wouldn’t make the main final in their pair which, of course, they did, leaving only half an hour or so between the two grand finals – the petite final for the pair would have been earlier in the day.
“We had five or 10 minutes having our legs massaged and then we were straight out into the eight, for another 2k,” Pauline remembers. When it came to the race, “GBR, who were expected to beat Canada, rowed all the way half a length down on them, but their row looked tired which was hardly surprising given that six of the eight girls had raced that day [the coxed four having already done their event’s petite final],” Katie Ball wrote in Rowing. “I just remember finishing that race thinking if ONLY I could just burst it tears I would probably feel a lot better but I wasn’t going to,” Pauline says, adding, “I just really felt as though I had been hit by a truck.”
The eight don’t seem to have minded at all that two of their crew mates had pretty depleted legs when they went out for the big boat’s final. “We were just really pleased they did so well. And I think we were all realistic enough to know that it wouldn’t make much difference to our position!,” Kate Grose laughs.
A picture of the eight racing, taken by Peter Spurrier, can be seen here.
Coxed four (8th out of 8)
Setting the scene for this event in her report in Rowing, Katie Ball explained, “The women’s coxed fours event is a very high standard and a good place in the small final was expected for the GBR crew,” although Mike Genchi admits that, “The four had a difficult job.”
Their campaign started well, and Katie described how, “In the heat they had a good row and were in contention,” although they finished last of the four crews. To make the final, they then needed to finish in the first two in the six-boat repechage. “The wind was coming directly across the course giving them the worst lane and they looked uncomfortable in the conditions,” she continued. “The British were never in contact with the field and trailed in, relegated to the petite final with the Australian crew.” The Australians then beat them by just under five seconds.
Lightweight single sculls (10th out of 12)
By June of 1986 Beryl Crockford, now aged 36, had decided this would be her last year of international competition, and so she left her job in April so that she could, “Devote herself utterly to her training,” as Duncan Crockford put it in a letter he wrote to a BBC sports presenter with the aim of getting coverage that might help Beryl get sponsorship.
Impending retirement hadn’t meant she’d wound down her training, though, and Duncan was upbeat at that point about how she was going, writing, “Beryl started her preparation for this year last October with myself as her coach. She has progressed very
well and we both have every reason to be pleased with what we have achieved so far and are hopeful of gold medal success.” But since then, of course, she’d come third at Lucerne and fourth at the Commonwealth Games; there were several other scullers out there who had good reason to believe they were now faster than her.
On the way to the Championships in Nottingham, her (wooden) sculling blades were smashed to pieces when they came off the roof of her car in high winds on the motorway. Although oar-maker Jerry Sutton was able to end a new pair up promptly they could never be a direct replacement because different sets always felt slightly different, and also took a little usage before they settled. That said, Duncan doesn’t think this had any effect on her result, and certainly doesn’t remember her being frustrated by the late equipment change.
In her first round heat of six from which only one would go straight through to the final, “Beryl led from the start and had almost two lengths at 250m, but gradually the field pegged her back and she came in third,” Katie Ball reported in Rowing. Jim Railton,who knew her well, commented in The Times that, “The old spark seems to have left her.” She then came last in her five-boat rep, a considerable way off qualifying. Her hopes of one more medal were gone.
The next day, Geoffrey Page’s piece in the Telegraph was headlined “Crockford falls victim to passing years,” and continued, “Beryl Crockford’s defeat was not unexpected after her showing this season but it was sad to see this veteran of 11 previous championships – Olympic, Commonwealth and World – finish last in her repechage. As a lightweight she no longer has the power to produce the formidable finishing burst that once brought her a heavyweight silver medal, and it looks as though the years are finally catching up with her.” Duncan disagrees completely with the comment about her no longer having the required power, which seems likely to have been an example of a journalist applying an interpretation to a result without actually asking the competitor whether it was the case. Apart from the fact that as a single sculler she was able to race at 59kg rather than the 57kg she’d had to be for the lightweight double the previous year, which allowed her to carry extra muscle, he points to her performance in Ghent, when she beat the Belgian Rita Defauw who took the silver medal in Nottingham, to prove that she still had what it took physically. “Her training had gone very well all year, she was as fit as she’d ever been, and technically, she was sculling as well as she’d ever sculled but I couldn’t get her to turn on the ‘animal’,” he remembers. “By the 1986 season she was weary of the years of constant struggle trying to get support, financial or otherwise. Increasingly disillusioned, with how much it cost her to represent her country, financial and otherwise, and rude Belgian officials notwithstanding, her default mindset was no longer the ‘bloody minded strop’ which had long driven her to race so well, but, ‘Why am I bothering, what difference does it make?’ It was a very disappointing outcome, naturally, but by the end of it she didn’t really care, or at least she didn’t show it if she did.”
In the petite final, she beat the scullers from Mexico and Switzerland to finish tenth overall. Geoffrey Page wrote in The Guardian that after the race Beryl said, “Now I’m free,” and added that, “She should have stopped last year,” before asking, according to Roger Jennings in an unidentified newspaper, “What’s this thing called a social life?” The piece suggested that giving up her day job hadn’t been as beneficial to her training as she expected, quoting her as saying, “[Training’s] too much of a job of work for me now. But I’m pleased to be in Nottingham to end my rowing career. For me, Nottingham means trial, sweat, nerves and the runs. Now I can throw off the chains of training. What I’m going to do now is breakfast on plum crumble and cream. The waitress at [our accommodation] kept it specially for me from last night.”
While Beryl was typically sounding a fun note, the papers all reflected more seriously on her incredible achievements. Richard Burnell wrote in The Times that, “It was sad to witness the end of a distinguished racing career,” and Rowing magazine summed her result up very well in the caption to a photo of her which read, “Swan song: Beryl Crockford could have wished for a better end to her long and successful career.”
As Katie Ball said in Rowing, “Two silver medals and two sixth places from the British women’s team went down as the most successful performance they’ve ever had.” With only four medals having been won in the previous 32 years of European and then World Championships/Olympic Games, 1986 certainly goes down in history as the first occasion on which two medals were one in a single year. But both were, of course in lightweight events; in openweight, even though, “I think we felt that it was a little bit more equal with the Western Europeans, compared with the previous year,” as Tish Reid put it, and the pair’s creditable performance had notched up a place in a final, there was still a long way to go to reach those medals.
Was doubling up and creating the eight from two other crews the right thing to do? In the short term, it produced the fastest unit possible and was also a practical solution in the face of tight finances, but in the longer term, the lack of investment in new talent (Jo Gough, Kate Grose and cox Ali Norrish were the only members of the openweight squad who had not previously represented GB and of the others, Pauline Bird was on a ‘come back’ and could hardly have been regarded as a ‘future prospect’. Kate Holroyd, who first rowed in the senior team in 1982 after two years as a GB junior, feels, “We’d regressed. We’d gone back to the early ’80s in terms of numbers.”
That said, even if it was out of necessity, at least doubling up gave Kate Grose, Tish Reid and Flo Johnston (who had all only been to one World Championships each before) more racing experience at this level. However, whilst 1986 was successful in its way, it left an awful lot to do in 1987 to create a squad from which a competitive team could be formed for the 1988 Olympic Games. With Geoffrey Page noting, probably in the Telegraph, that, “The standards of all the women’s events was remarkably high, the course record being shattered in every race,” even ‘standing still’ required constant improvement.
World Junior Championships
These took place at Roudnice in what was then Czechoslovakia. Various members of the team suffered from a stomach bug.
Coxed four (8th out of 8)
B: Katherine Wilcox (Royal Chester RC)
2: Katie Sanson (Weybridge Ladies ARC)*
3: Wendy Hill (Agecroft RC)
S: Sharon Ayres (Rob Roy BC)
Cox: Zoe Barker (Maidenhead RC)
Coach: Chris Jackman (Royal Chester RC)
The Team Managers’ report in the Almanack concluded that the four “lacked the strength to go fast enough,” but it was also the only Western crew in the event, and beat the Hungarians in the first round.
Double scull (9th out of 10)
B: Adrienne Grimsditch (Northwich RC)
S: Michelle Lee (St Neots RC)
Coaches: Tony Hainsby (St Neots) and Pete Sheppard (Kingston Grammar School BC)
The double, who were just 15 and 16 years old, struggled with the effects of the stomach bug on the day of the petite final which the Team Managers felt they might otherwise have won as they were only three seconds off doing so.
Coxless pair (7th out of 8)
B: Anna Durrant (Mark Rutherford School RC)**
S: Rachel Thomas (Weybridge Ladies ARC)
Coach: John Bell (Mark Rutherford School RC)
Although the Team managers considered that the pair “lacked pace,” they also described them as “technically very proficient.”
* denotes a previous cap in the GB junior team.
Match des Seniors
The Match des Seniors, which operated outside FISA auspices and had been founded in 1974 when it was known as the Nations Cup, was later renamed the Under-23 Championships, and was for western countries only at this stage.
In 1986 the event took place in Hamburg. Rowing magazine noted that, “The British have come late (as usual) to recognise the potential of [this event] as a proving ground for 18-22 year olds who are at a level between junior and senior representation.”
There were three crews in the GB women’s openweight team: a pair of the 1985 senior internationals Sam Wensley (Borough Road BC) and Sue Smith (Abingdon RC), who had also been the GB pair for the Match des Seniors in 1984, and were coached as they had been then by Jon Tompkins; a coxed four from Durham University (out of which only Philippa Cross went on to be a senior international); and single sculler Rachel Hirst (another future international) from Nottinghamshire County RA, coached by Mark Lees. Rachel finished ninth out of nine, the four was fourth out of four, and the pair were second in their two-boat race.
Former junior internationals Vikki Filsell (ULWBC) and Alex Sanson (WLARC) were fourth out of four in the lightweight double sculls, coached by Phil Rowley. All four of these boats were around half a minute slower than the winners of their events. Maureen McGarvey (Glasgow ARC), coached by Ian Somerside, did rather better, finishing fourth in the lightweight singles just one and a half lengths behind the bronze medallist.
© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2018.