1990 World Rowing Championships

The 1990 World Rowing Championships took place on Lake Barrington in Tasmania, Australia from 31 October to 4 November. This was much later in the year than usual in order to avoid winter in the southern hemisphere, a fact which led to an additional regatta being added to the European international calendar, and to the British team undergoing fairly significant changes in early mid-August, on which more in due course.

There were 52 openweight and 31 lightweight entries from 25 countries, which was only two fewer boats and countries than the 1989 Championships in Yugoslavia, thanks to a vigorous campaign by FISA, the governing body of world rowing to encourage entries despite the travel involved. The Championships were the last occasion on which East and West Germany competed as separate nations in rowing, having been given special dispensation to do so even though East Germany technically no longer existed, following the political completion of German reunification on 3 October. A single sculler from Zimbabwe was the first representative of that country to compete.

Coaching and squad formation

Bob Michaels was appointed Chief Coach for both openweight and lightweight women the 1990 season. This was a paid position, though only part time. Bob had been the Chief Coach for the Lightweight Women in 1989 and had coached the coxless four to win the silver medal at the World Championships. In 1988 he’d coached the GB eight that ultimately wasn’t sent to the Olympic Games from just before Henley Women’s Regatta, and he’d been the squad co-ordinator for the lightweight men in 1985. He also worked as a coach at Westminster School.

man with mustache smiling

Bob Michaels. (Photo © John Shore.)

One the crews were finalised, Bob coached the lightweight four again, the openweight four was coached by Jon Tompkins who had looked after lightweight sculler Carol-Ann Wood in the run up to the World Championships in 1985, Derek Clark coached the pair at their request, and Rosie Mayglothling coached the lightweight double. Tish Reid worked with her own coach Eddie Wells.

Winter trials and racing

First assessment (27-28 January 1990)

Done at Thorpe Park, this involved two sets of eight 1,200m pieces, in singles for the first and doubles for the second, although a few people who weren’t good enough at sculling were allowed to race in pairs. 63 open and lightweights entered with three more absent through illness or injury. 31 had attended the first open trial the previous year.

Director of International Rowing Penny Chuter‘s information for competitors included the note, “No toilets are available.” And yes, this was the state of facilities (no pun intended) available for those seeking to represent their country at an Olympic sport (as it had been for the decade or more that GB rowing had used Thorpe Park).

Note: Those who had already competed for GB at a World Championships or Olympics are in italics, and those who went on to do so in 1992 are in bold.


  1. Tish Reid
  2. Ali Gill +2 seconds (over the total time for the eight pieces)
  3. Sue Key (lightweight) +1 minute 5 seconds
  4. Felicity Medinnis-Leach (lightweight) +1 minute 7 seconds
  5. Annabel Eyres +1 minute 11 seconds
  6. Kate Grose +1 minute 14 seconds


  1. Anne Marden/Ali Gill (Anne was a US double Olympic silver medallist living in London and ineligible for the GB team)
  2. Sue Smith/Kate Grose +20 seconds (Sue had not taken part in the single sculling pieces)
  3. Rita de Jong/Claire McDougall-Smith (lightweight) + 24 seconds (Rita was a Dutch national at the University of London and ineligible for the GB team)
  4. Annabel Eyres/Jo Gough +36 seconds
  5. Kareen Marwick/Kate Miller +2 minutes 19 seconds
  6. Helen Mangan/Claire Parker (both lightweight) +2 minutes 21 seconds

Second assessment (17-18 February 1990)

Back at Thorpe less than a month later, the women did another three sets of eight pieces, not always of the same distance. This time most of the 68 women entered were in pairs, with a few single and double sculls, particularly for the lightweights targeting those boats.


  1. Ali Gill
  2. Tish Reid +45 seconds
  3. Kate Grose +50 seconds
  4. Carol-Ann Wood (lightweight) +1 minute 36 seconds
  5. Miriam Batten +2 minutes 49 seconds
  6. Diane Sturtivant (lightweight) + 3 minutes 22 seconds

The results in doubles and pairs in the remaining three sessions are messier to interpret because of different distances rowed in each session, and both boat types being used, sometimes leading to there being very few doubles in a session, but the winners were:

Saturday afternoon

  • Anne Marden/Ali Gill followed by Miriam Batten/Kate Grose (+1 minute) in doubles
  • Rachel Hirst/Sue Key (lightweights) in pairs

Sunday morning

  • Carol-Ann Wood/Liz Holmes (lightweights) in doubles
  • Rachel Hirst/Martha Plessas in pairs

Women’s Eights Head (10 March 1990)

Only the GB lightweights raced under National Squad colours, coming second to Thames RC in very difficult conditions.

two eights racing

Thames RC (nearest the camera) close on the GB lightweights. (Photo: Miriam Luke’s personal collection.)

Third assessment (24-25 March 1990)

This involved four sets of 2,000m pieces in Nottingham where the National Watersports Centre was fully plumbed.

Session 1:


  1. Sue Key (lightweight)
  2. Carol-Ann Wood (lightweight)
  3. Annabel Eyres

NB These results omit Anne Marden as she wasn’t eligible for or seeking GB selection, although she did take part.


  1. Kate Miller/Caroline Christie
  2. Rachel Hirst (lightweight)/Jackie Prout
  3. Katie Brownlow/Jo Toch (lightweights)

Session 2 (in deteriorating weather):


  1. Kate Miller/Kareen Marwick
  2. Sally Thomas/Lesley Baguley
  3. Aggie Barnett/Jackie Prout

Session 3:


Annabel Eyres/Caroline Christie and Rachel Hirst/Jo Toch (lightweights) tied for first place. Third was a tie between four crews.

Lightweight doubles

Four crews raced, of which the combination of Helen Mangan/Carol-Ann Wood was fastest.

Session 4:


Annabel Eyres/Kareen Marwick tied for first place with Kate Miller/Jo Gough. Lightweights Rachel Hirst/Jo Toch were third.


Lightweights Carol-Ann Wood/Gill Hodges won with under-23s Suzanne Kirk/Adrienne Grimsditch second.

Ergo tests (March 1990)

The winter assessments were completed by a seven minute test in which the top scorers from 19 openweights and 16 lightweights who completed it (which didn’t include all of those who ‘made’ the next cut) were:


  1. Jo Gough
  2. Kate Grose
  3. Anabel Eyres
  4. Tish Reid
  5. Miriam Batten


  1. Sue Key
  2. Alison Brownless
  3. Martha Plessas
  4. Alison Staite
  5. Helen Bowsher (Under 23)

Scullers’ Head (7 April 1990)

Anne Marden was the fastest woman, finishing in an astonishing 18th place with Rachel Hirst second in 60th position overall, 445 seconds behind her. Sue Key was third, winning the women’s Senior 2 pennant.

The cut to 14

In March, Bob Michaels issued a Squad Strategy Document for the remainder of the season in which he invited 14 women from each of the openweight and lightweight schemes to the closed assessment in Nottingham on 5-7 May. He emphasised that, “Athletes invited to the closed assessment are advised that a lot of importance will be attached to the results of this particular assessment,” and added that, “Although I am inviting 14 athletes from each group not every one is guaranteed to be in a squad crew for the early regattas of the season. ”


Lesley Baguley
Miriam Batten
Caroline Christie
Annabel Eyres
Fiona Freckleton
Ali Gill
Jo Gough
Kate Grose
Flo Johnston
Claire McDougall-Smith
Kareen Marwick
Kate Miller
Tish Reid
Sally Thomas (née Andreae)

Flo Johnston subsequently dropped out having, she says, “Completely lost all enthusiasm for it, and it showed!” Sally Thomas also withdrew for similar reasons. The remaining 12 contained a healthy mix of experience and new blood (Lesley, Miriam, Caroline and Claire).


Alison Brownless
Katie Brownlow
Vikki Filsell
Rachel Hirst
Liz Holmes
Sue Key
Helen Mangan
Felicity Medinnis-Leach
Kristel Osborn
Claire Parker
Martha Plessas
Alison Staite
Jo Toch
Carol-Ann Wood

Again this group contained a lot of experienced internationals as well as five new faces who had nevertheless been on the fringes of international competition for a few years (Alison B, Liz, Kristel, Martha and Alison S). Felicity had raced at the World Championships in 1988 for Switzerland. Martha was a Cambridge Blue who finished up rowing in the US lightweight coxless four in 1990.

Closed assessment: Nottingham (5-7 May 1990)

This involved 1,500m pieces on the Saturday and 2,000m pieces on the Sunday and Monday in pairs and singles. The final session on bank holiday Monday afternoon was a training session in crews identified from the racing.

Early season racing

Ghent (12-13 May 1990)

Tish Reid finished fourth in the single sculls on the first day and third on the next, beating Ali Gill by “a couple of lengths,” according to Rowing magazine.

Annabel Eyres, Kate Miller, Kate Grose and Jo Gough won quads on the Saturday, and then the under-23 double of Adrienne Grimsditch and Suzanne Kirk teamed up with former internationals Jackie Prout and Aggie Barnett – to win on the Sunday, in the process setting a new course record of 6.46.48 that still stands, as do a number of other records from 1990; Miriam Batten recorded in her training diary that there was a roaring tail wind.

Liz Holmes won the lightweight singles on one day and also took the gold in the lightweight doubles with Vikki Filsell. Felicity Medinnis-Leach, who lived in Geneva, and Sue Key won lightweight doubles on the other day as a scratch combination.

Women's double

Felicity (left) and Sue racing in Ghent. (Photo: Felicity Medinnis-Leach’s personal collection.)

No fewer than five adult (one of which was lightweight) and two junior coxless fours were entered in the openweight event on the first day under the Amateur Rowing Association banner. In the final, Katie Brownlow, Jo Toch, Rachel Hirst and Sue Key, the lightweight world silver medallists, took third place behind two German crews, but beating the GB openweights crew which contained Miriam Batten by six seconds. Miriam noted in her training diary that they “fell apart after 500m”. Similar crews raced on the Sunday.

Kate Grose and Caroline Christie, whom Rowing described as “Bob Michael’s top pairing,” won the coxless pairs on one day.

Brandenburg (9-10 June 1990)

Tish Reid was the only British woman to compete at this regatta, finishing fifth on the Saturday and just failing to qualify for the final on the Sunday. Geoffrey Page commented in Regatta that she was “sculling very well.”

Ratzeburg (16-17 June 1990)

Tish finished second in the final, having earlier beaten Ali Gill in the heat.

Henley Women’s Regatta (23 June 1990)

As set out in Bob Michaels’ squad strategy document earlier in the year, the quad were, “Entered as composites so credit for any good performances may be given to the clubs who do so much every year to support the National Squad efforts.”

Ali Gill won won one of the divisions of open single sculls, beating the basically lightweight Rachel Hirst in the final. Fiona Freckleton won the other division. Tish Reid didn’t enter.

Sue Key, Vikki Filsell, Jo Toch and Katie Brownlow won lightweight coxless fours.

In the final of open coxless fours, Kate Miller, Kareen Marwick, Caroline Christie and Miriam Batten beat another ‘squaddie’ crew containing Kate Grose, which in turn had defeated the GB lightweights (with Rachel Hirst at two) in the first round.

Most of the members of the two openweight fours then doubled up into the only squad crew that actually raced as GBR National Squad to win open eights: Miriam Batten (stroke), Kareen Marwick, Ali Gill, Caroline Christie, Annabel Eyres, Jo Gough, Lindsay Williams, Lesley Baguley, cox Toddy Russ.

Under-23s Adrienne Grimsditch and Suzanne Kirk won one of the divisions of open double sculls, while Jackie Prout and Fiona Freckleton, who had both been in the eight that wasn’t selected to go to the 1988 Olympics, won open coxless pairs.

The lightweight double sculls was also split into two divisions, one of which was won by Alison Brownless and Kristel Osborn, and the other by Liz Holmes and Alison Staite. The lightweight single sculls was split into three with Claire Parker reversing the result of the previous year by beating Helen Mangan in the final of one, and Shauna McGibbon and Sue Appelboom winning the other two.

Gateshead Garden Festival

Yes, really! The lightweight four took part in a one-off sprint regatta was run on the Tyne as part of this six month long event which saw redevelopment of land previously occupied by derelict industrial plant.

Lucerne (13-15 July 1990)

In most years, Lucerne is the final pre-World Championships regatta, and is generally the occasion when the final combinations prove that they are worthy to be selected. But with the Worlds being much later than usual, the 1990 regatta was more like a mid-season event, with combinations still being tried out, and there was a fair amount of musical chairs from the line-ups that raced at Henley Women’s.

That said, the one well-established crew, the lightweight four, won their straight final against three West German crews, as shown in the video below (in which the GB crew is nearest the camera), successfully holding off a late charge by the squad boat. This was the third year in a row that GB had won the lightweight event.

four women on pontoon being filmed by cameraman

The lightweights waiting to get their medals. (Photo: Sue Key’s personal collection.)

There was no GB openweight eight, but Kate Grose replaced Kate Miller in the coxless four which had won at Henley Women’s, the rest of the line-up remaining as Miriam Batten, Kareen Marwick, Caroline Christie. They finished third, but in a time only one second quicker than that of the lightweight four which raced openweight as well as at lightweight. As the commentator explains in the video above, the lightweights actually beat her openweight crew, in an extra combined race that was laid on because of the low entries in both events. “We didn’t row well,” she says. “It was scrappy and I know I was really bad. I really suffered from nerves at big events. We got sent home in disgrace and were told we’d be retrialling the boats after Nat Champs.”

three women's fours racing

The GB openweight four (nearest the camera) race the lightweights (furthest from the camera). (Photo: Sue Key’s personal collection.)

Liz Holmes and Vikki Filsell were 11th in the lightweight doubles with Diane Surtivant and Rhian Prichard one second behind. Claire Parker was tenth in the lightweight singles.

Jo Gough and Annabel Eyres were last in the straight final in the coxless pairs, a result which led Rowing magazine to comment, “Further trials will prove necessary in this event.” They can be glimpsed towards the end of the video above.

Both Tish Reid and Ali Gill raced single sculls with Tish beating Ali and finishing tenth overall. Rowing suggested that as both are fast, but not fast enough, they ought to try a double, but while this analysis has a reasonable logic to it on paper, neither woman actually wanted to do this.

Gooodwill Games – Seattle (20-21 July 1990)

The Goodwill Games was a multi-sports event that had first been run in 1986 in Moscow, with the aim of fostering good relations between US and Soviet athletes, although 54 countries took part in 1990 in 17 sports. The GB openweight women didn’t take part but the lightweights did in a pair and a single which were the only events offered.

Rachel Hirst was the single, and Katie Brownlow and Sue Key the pair. Sue’s memory is that they came fourth.

Two women with boats on trestles

Katie Brownlow (left) and Sue Key at the Goodwill Games. (Photo: Sue Key’s personal collection.)

National Championships (22-23 July 1990)

Under-23s Adrienne Grimsditch and Suzanne Kirk, who had missed out Lucerne, won the double sculls by an enormous 25 seconds.

The gold medal in the coxless fours went to the GB crew which had raced at Lucerne, while Jo Gough and Annabel Eyres took the coxless pairs, beating silver medallists Lesley Baguley and Kate Miller by ten seconds.

Tish Reid romped home in the single sculls, lowering the Championship record by 14 seconds, with Fiona Freckleton taking silver and Kate Miller bronze. Ali Gill had entered but didn’t race. This marked the end of their season-long “ding dong”, as Tish described it, and she was duly selected.

In the lightweight events, Alison Brownless and Kristel Osborn won the double sculls ahead of Diane Sturtivant and Rhian Pritchard. Claire Parker won the singles, also setting a new record, with Shauna McGibbon second, future internationals Sue Appelboom and Trisha Corless third and fourth, 1986 silver medallist Carol-Ann Wood fifth and Helen Mangan sixth. The four didn’t race, obviously, because three of them were in America at the Goodwill Games.

Retrials (10-12 August 1990)

At this point there were still nearly three months until the World Championships started and Chief Coach Bob Michaels was faced with various situations which needed to be resolved or improved:

  • Ali Gill, having lost the singles slot to Tish Reid, was now available for crews.
  • The openweight coxless four was OK, but if it could be strengthened that would be good.
  • Jo Gough and Annabel Eyres weren’t really fast enough in their pair.
  • Fiona Freckleton, who had been out of the squad since February with breathing problems (caused, she believes now, by weather conditions affecting the amount of lime tree pollen in the air in central London, where she lived and worked as well as rowed) was now back to full fitness as demonstrated by her two wins at Henley Women’s.
  • There were all sorts of options for the lightweight double.

Final trials, which had always been planned, were run at the Docks to resolve these.

Of the 14 selected at the end of March, two had withdrawn (Flo and Sally) and Tish Reid was single sculling. Nine of the remaining 11, along with Suzanne Kirk from the double scull, took part in the final trials for seats in a coxless four and a pair.

The trials began with two pieces on the Friday evening in the five pairs which the rowers had been training in since Nat Champs. The first piece was won by Miriam Batten/Kareen Marwick with Kate Miller/Fiona Freckleton second. Two of the pairs then exchanged partners for the second run which was won by more than seven seconds by Ali Gill/Fiona Freckleton with Miriam Batten/Kareen Marwick second.

The next day it was all change as the pairs rowed in five new, and in some cases, untried combinations. Miriam Batten/Fiona Freckleton won by over four seconds from Ali Gill/Kareen Marwick. Miriam remembers, “It was the first time I’d rowed with Fiona but it just clicked.”

The combined results of all three of these races established that Miriam/Fiona was the fastest pair, so they were then used as a pace boat for varying fours combinations in two further pieces on the Saturday. After these, Annabel was told that she was dropped. “I was so upset that Kate Grose came round to make sure I was alright,” she recalls. Kate then rang Bob. “I told him I thought he was making a really big mistake because there’d been a lot of sort of odd results,” she says. “I already wasn’t flavour of the month with him at that stage, and he said, ‘If you say another word I’m going to drop you as well.’ I remember that very clearly.”

On the final day of the trials, with Annabel and Suzanne not present, two fours seat raced six 1,000m pieces. Caroline Christie and Kate Miller were eliminated, Ali Gill, Kareen Marwick, Miriam Batten and Fiona Freckleton became the four, and Kate Grose and Jo Gough the pair.

The selected four had done the last of the six pieces in 3’14”. “I know you don’t just double a 1k time to make a 2k time,” Fiona remembers, “But that was over 100% predicted gold medal speed and I think that made us believe that we were fast enough.”

Kate Grose recalls, “Jo and I were the second boat. We were selected, but we were the also-rans.”

The results of the trials for the lightweight doubles led to three crews being asked to continue to train: Felicity Medinnis-Leach/Helen Mangan, Carrie Wood/Shauna McGibbon, and Gill Hodges/Alison Brownless. Kristel Osborn, who had been in the winning lightweight double at both Henley Women’s and Nat Champs with Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless was not included in this group. “Kristel was taken out of the picture a bit too early, I thought,” Wilma says. “We’d been really well, but we didn’t trial particularly well that weekend. I think I came off my seat; it wasn’t her fault.” Another of the triallists, 1988 international Vikki Filsell, says, “I just remember the coaches being surprised by everything that was happening. The results were all up in the air.”

Final training and racing

Amsterdam (8-9 September 1990)

Tish Reid came fourth on the Saturday and then third on the Sunday in the openweight single sculls. “Afterwards Bob Michaels told me that because I’d medalled, my scull would get shipped out to Tasmania for me to race in at the Worlds. Otherwise I’d have had to borrow a boat out there,” she remembers.

The new openweight coxed four, “Looked promising… and were benefitting from the stroking of Ali Gill,”  according  to Geoffrey Page in Regatta magazine. “On the Saturday,” Fiona Freckleton recalls, “We had one of those starts when the guy said ‘Go’ while somebody’s hand was in the air and we went a bit sideways and lost a couple of seconds. But we then had this amazing experience where we rowed through the West Germans at about half way, and for all of us at the end it was just a key moment, something I’ll never forget. We used to refer to one of the women in that crew as Scabby Gabi, which wasn’t kind but we had a ’10 for Scabby Gabi’. It was just one of those times where it didn’t even hurt because it was just so incredible. It flew.” They finished third, six seconds behind the Canadian winners and two seconds behind the Russians.

On the Sunday they finished second behind Canada, beating both halves of the Soviet eight which Geoffrey Page said was expected to double up at the World Championships, although actually the Russians only raced the eight in the end, possibly because of their poor showing here. “That definitely made us realise that we could do it. No doubt about that,” Fiona Freckleton remembers. “There was something about that boat where it really just worked when it was at its best. I think that’s what we discovered on those trials was that we’d got people who’d come in not having all been in the same group together and not having particular expectations about what everybody was like and what everybody could do and we just got on and did it. It was a very exciting time.”

Kate Grose and Jo Gough raced in their pair, of which Kate’s main memory is that Kate someone flashed them on the way up to the start. They were fourth on the Saturday, comfortably ahead of Annabel Eyres and Caroline Christie, but finished third on the second day behind West Germany and Canada.

The lightweight coxless four was “comprehensively beaten”, as Geoffrey Page put it in Regatta, by a Soviet crew “new to the lightweight scene”. [The Eastern bloc didn’t generally participate in lightweight events which did not lend themselves to some of the aspects of the Communist sporting system in the same way that openweight rowing did, particularly the selection of very tall people at an early age and the use of muscle-building drugs –Ed.]. Page added, though, that the GB crew “should nevertheless challenge the top crews in Tasmania”.

In the lightweight doubles, Gill Hodges didn’t make weight; although she had been lightweight before, having won the silver medal in the lightweight coxless four in 1986, it was very for her as she was tall for for the category. Of the other two crews, Helen Mangan and Felicity Medinnis-Leach achieved the highest placing (third, and encouragingly close to the Danish crew which would go on to win the gold medal at the Worlds, as Felicity remembers it) and were subsequently selected on that basis as the GB to go to the World Championships. They paid for their boat to be flown out to Australia themselves, and trained together in Switzerland with Felicity’s club coach Jacques Vignon, and then in Chester and Runcorn with Rosie Mayglothling.

World Championships Team Manager Brian Armstrong later wrote in the Almanack, “The women’s crews had shown a marked improvement towards the end of the European regatta season with good results being achieved at the September Amsterdam regatta.”

Final selection

Coxless four

B: Fiona Freckleton (Kingston RC)
2: Miriam Batten (Thames RC)
3: Kareen Marwick (Tideway Scullers’ School)
S: Ali Gill (Upper Thames RC)
Coach: Jon Tompkins

Coxless pair

B: Jo Gough (Tideway Scullers’ School)
S: Kate Grose (Tideway Scullers’ School)
Coach: Derek Clark

Single scull

Tish Reid (Lea RC)
Coach: Eddie Wells

Lightweight coxless four

B: Sue Key (Thames RC)
2: Rachel Hirst (Nottinghamshire County RA)
3: Jo Toch (Tideway Scullers’ School)
S: Katie Brownlow (Thames RC)
Coach: Bob Michaels

Lightweight double scull

B: Felicity Medinnis-Leach (Société Nautique de Genève)
S: Helen Mangan (Grosvenor RC)
Coach: Rosie Mayglothling

Suzanne Kirk and Adrienne Grimsditch, who had won the gold medal in the under-23 Match des Seniors at the end of July, were selected to go to the World Championships as the double scull but had to withdraw because of illness.


There was very little funding around for any of the GB team, but the lightweights didn’t qualify for the small amount that there was because it was available only to Olympic boat classes, which the lightweights weren’t at that time. Regatta magazine noted in its September edition that the members of the lightweight coxless four therefore had to raise £2,500 each to cover their expenses for the trip to Tasmania, and were calling for donations. All donors would receive a ‘Get out and get rowing sticker’, while those giving £15 or more would get a t-shirt with that slogan on. No record has survived of how this initiative went, and Katie Brownlow remembers that they were supported financially by Thames RC.

Training camp in Australia

This took place at Geelong, about 75km from Melbourne, on the River Barwon which was meant to provide 15km of training water with a 1,500m buoyed course near the boathouses.

Unfortunately, the river was in flood. “It was like being on the Tideway,” Sue Key say. “And I thought I’d rather be on the Tideway, because at least steering on the Tideway was where I’d learned. Training on the river was not ideal preparation really, and the weather wasn’t that good either, though the food was amazing – there was LOTS of fruit, which is so important for us lightweights.” Ali Gill adds, “I remember getting there and feeling dreadful. Before we left, because we couldn’t go out there early enough, we’d been going out training at really odd hours of the night to acclimatise.” As a result, the team doctor handed out a lot of sleeping pills which, looking back on it now, Fiona says, “I’m not sure was the right thing to do.”

The four were using a brand new Empacher boat which they hadn’t had a chance to try out in the UK because it had only been built in time to be shipped straight to Australia. All of the crew remember that it felt much too big for them. “We flopped around all over the place and we couldn’t steer it,” Fiona Freckleton remembers. ” I don’t think the rudder was in the water. There was something wrong because we always had huge steering problems, we’d bounce around in the lanes,” Miriam adds.

The pair also had a new boat, but theirs was a complete success. It was bought for them by Norwich Union, for whom Jo was working at the time. “We’d been rowing in one of Steve Redgrave’s old pairs,” Kate explains, “But it was huge! But Norwich Union was very supportive of the rowing, and they bought us a boat and it was shipped straight out to Australia and about two days before we finished training camp this beautiful thing turned up still wrapped in plastic. It made a massive difference. The Romanian men ended up hiring our old boat.”

coxless four

Fiona Freckleton’s view from the bow seat on training camp in Geelong. Miriam Batten (nearest camera), Kareen Marwick and Ali Gill. (Photo © Fiona Watson.)

Outside training, Fiona remembers the four having quite a fun time with the men’s four, playing golf and ball games together. The ‘also-ran’ women’s pair found the four’s jollity quite difficult, though. “Jo and I just kept our heads down really,” Kate remembers.

At the Championships

The conditions varied considerably during the Championships. On one of the finals days, Martin Cross, commentating for EuroSport, remarked that racing had been delayed because the waves were lapping over the stakeboat boys.

rough water

Rough water on Lake Barrington. (Photo: Rosie Mayglothling’s personal collection.)

Lightweight coxless four (4th out of 7)

The lightweight four came second in their heat of three from which only one progressed straight to the final, finishing three seconds behind the Canadians who hadn’t been at Lucerne.

three women's fours at finish line

The GB crew finish second in their heat of three. (Photo: Sue Key’s personal collection.)

Katie Brownlow remembers that they very nearly didn’t even make weight for the race. “Weight had become an increasing issue that year,” the third that three of them had rowed together, and the second that they’d been together as that exact crew, she says. “There were increasing tensions about who had the ‘right’ to weigh more, and how height and physique should be taken into account in deciding that; should a taller skinnier woman have a higher target than a shorter but more muscular one. On the morning of the first race we went out and did our sweat row and hadn’t lost enough weight. So we did a sweat jog and still didn’t make it. I think someone commented that if we did any more we’d be too tired to row, and I was just thinking, ‘But if we don’t, there isn’t any rowing at all!’ And I thought it would have been massively disrespectful to the people at Thames RC who had so kindly supported us financially to be there. Anyway, we did another sweat run and I was coming back from it and I bumped into Miriam Batten and I asked her to go and find some scissors so I could cut my hair off as well, but fortunately I think it was on that sweat run that we just made the weight.”

In the repechage, Geoffrey Page wrote, probably in the Telegraph, “The lightweight women’s coxless four, recovering from a disappointing heat, looked a different crew… Fourth after 500m, Katie Brownlow took them through the field to take the lead by 1,500m and crossed the line over a length ahead of the reigning world champions, China.”

In the final, the Canadians won with Australia second. “Australia had been ill at the start of the regatta and nearly pulled out but then obviously recovered,” Sue Key remembers. The British crew were in bronze medal position for much of the race until the Chinese, who had been last at half way, “Found the fastest second half to topple Britain from the bronze position by 0.14 seconds,” as Chris Dodd reported in Regatta, and as can be seen in this agonising video where the GB crew is in Lane 5, second from bottom of the screen in the overhead shots.

“I just remember being bitterly disappointed really, especially because it was China AGAIN!,” Sue says [the previous year the GB crew had been leading when China got past them in the last 500m].

Jo Toch reflects, “When you’re aiming for gold, and you’re not getting gold, you don’t even want silver. And I remember that after we went over the line, Katie asked, ‘Did we get the bronze?,’ and I just felt, “I don’t even care. All that mattered was it wasn’t gold. Now, of course, it would be nice to have that bronze medal too.” Looking back at the 1990 season, especially compared with the previous two years when she also been in the boat, she says, “I think the intensity of continuing to keep our weight down was hard, and also the psychological side of being expected to go one better and win.”

Katie’s view is that they were rowed through because of their earlier struggles to make weight. “Although we made it in the end for the first race, we were obviously not in a good state,” she explains. “We were dehydrated and that has an impact on your body. At that time we didn’t have much nutritional knowledge so we didn’t take the right kind of replacement when the final came. So I really do think it was because of the dehydration. I was pleased that we actually managed to race though obviously very, very disappointed with the result.”

Close race between women's fours

Photographed from the other side of the course, China (in the yellow boat) just lead GB (top of picture) as they approach the finish line. (Photo: Sue Key’s personal collection.)

After the final, Katie recalls, “I think we all went off in our own little ways. I remember bumping into the famous Russian Pimenov brothers who were sitting on this bench. One of them said, ‘Oh Kate, not good!,’ and then added, ‘Vodka?’ and offered me their bottle. The other one went, ‘Malboro?,’ and offered me a cigarette. I didn’t smoke but I took the vodka and then I remember going off with them and I ended up just partying with the Russians that night.”

Coxless pair (5th out of 10)

In their first round heat, from which only one crew qualified directly for the final, Jo Gough and Kate Grose were third out of five, behind Romania and Canada but beating the Netherlands and Korea (by over 30 seconds).

They then faced the USA, the Dutch again and Australians in their repechage from which two would get through to the main final. The British pair finished second, four seconds ahead of the Dutch (whom they’d actually beaten at Amsterdam) and 19 seconds ahead of Australia. “Our goal was to beat the Dutch, whom we knew quite because Rita de Jong was in the crew and she was at UL and had come to our early trials. I don’t think we initially thought we were going to beat them but we did, pretty comfortably in the end. It was good racing!”

“In the final, it was shocking, shocking conditions and they delayed racing by two hours and they should have carried on delaying it because it calmed right down later,” Kate remembers. “There was a massive headwind, so at the start it was completely unrowable but we all got on the start anyway, and a coxless pair is really hard [to keep straight] so they were having real problems getting us all straight at the same time because it was gusting even though it was basically a straight headwind, and we were also being pushed around by massive waves. They finally got us straight and we were all sitting forward and somebody in one of the boats started giggling because it was just so ludicrous to be racing in that and we all just collapsed laughing, and they were so cross! They sent us for a little circle. So we all detached and when we got back and they said, ‘If you do that again we’ll disqualify the lot of you,’ but it was just nervous laughter.”

Once the race got going, Kate continues, “We couldn’t believe we’d trained all this year and finished up in this. It was horrendous, and I just thought I’m not going to look round until we’ve got to the first 250m point because I was sure we were going to be so far behind because we weren’t rowing, we were stirring the water with our blades. But at 250 I looked round and there were three other boats in a line with us of which we were one – the two heat winners had just gone off. Maybe they’d had time together and managed somehow to go over the waves in a way we didn’t. In a funny way, I don’t think it was unfair, only if you hadn’t had much boat time! By the middle of the race we were all able to row again, but it was quite difficult to start going for it when you’ve been doing something different. We overtook the Romanians somewhere along the line which was a bit of a surprise but I have a suspicion they’d probably shipped even more water than we had. Nobody could understand why we were emptying so much water the boat out at the end because at the finish it was flat calm and they couldn’t see how rough it had been at the start.”

The terrible conditions are clearly visible in this video of the race.

Afterwards, Kate says, “We got drugs tested because they were so surprised that a British women’s crew had made the final, well, that was why we presumed we were drugs tested!”

Chris Dodd said in Regatta that their fifth place “fulfilled expectations” which, despite their late formation and disrupted season, was a fair comment about two experienced oarswomen who had reached the Olympic final in the coxed four two years earlier.

Lightweight double scull (7th out of 12)

The lightweight double came fourth in their heat of six from which two progressed straight to the A final, and then fourth again in their repechage, just under six seconds off qualifying. Their time in the rep was 20 seconds slower than the heat, which shows the wild changes in conditions.

“We didn’t get it right for the first two races,” Felicity Medinnis-Leach remembers. “In our heat we rated a little but too low, and then in the repechage we just rated a little bit too high, and that wasn’t right either. And But then in the small final we just got it right. We were very happy with that race!” They won the small final by over a second. Team Manager Brian Armstrong later wrote in the Almanack that, “They raced very creditably,” while Chris Dodd described their seventh place as “encouraging”.

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Coxless four (9th out of 9)

The four was fourth in their heat of five from which only one crew went straight through to the final. In their three boat repechage they needed to come second, but finished up coming third just 0.22 sec off qualifying. Their time was faster than that of the second qualifier from the other repechage. Chris Dodd in Regatta magazine, blamed their result on a bad start.

In the three boat small final, “We completely bombed out and came last which was absolutely gutting,” Miriam says. “I sort of felt like we’d lost it mentally and it was almost like we were rowing for the sake of it. It was horrendous. We never went well and it was just so disappointing because we’d shown at Amsterdam [when were still using the other boat] that that we could row well.” They finished just 0.26 seconds behind eighth-placed Australia, but even that had not been where their aspirations lay.

Single scull (9th out of 11)

Tish Reid, “Had the misfortune to be drawn in a heat which will bear a close resemblance to the line-up for the final,” Hugh Matheson wrote, probably in the Independent; her race ddid indeed feature four of them including all three medallists,

After finishing sixth in the heat and fourth in the rep from which only two got through to the main final, she came third in the small final, “After letting Anne Marden get clean away after 750m,” according to Chris Dodd in Regatta. The journey to Tasmania had not put off any of the big names in women’s single sculling at the time, and it was a classy field. She beat the Zimbabwean and Korean scullers by over half a minute in the small final, and Brian Armstrong commented that she should be encouraged by her ninth place at her first World Championships as a single sculler.

Tish herself remembers the whole experience fondly, enjoying the fact that after three World Championships in crew boats, she was “master of my own destiny”.

Sculler and coach carrying boat.

Tish and coach Eddie Wells. (Photo: Rosie Mayglothling’s personal collection.)

woman single sculling

Tish racing in Tasmania. (Photo: Tish Reid’s personal collection.)

World Rowing Junior Championships

These took place in Aiguebelette in France from 1-4 August. The Almanack described the final trials for the women’s team as “unusually competitive”.

Quadruple scull (8th out of 11)

B: Sally Hart (Royal Chester RC)
2: Rachel Cooper (Bedford High School RC)
3: Gillian Lindsay (Glasgow RC)
S: Eve Currington (St Neots RC)
Coach: Nigel Weare (ARA)

This was the first ever GB junior women’s quad scull.

Coxless four (5th out of 8)

B: Tara Byrne (Kingston RC)
2: Tegwen Rooks (Maidenhead RC)
3: Sarah Birch (Kingston RC)*
S: Robyn Morris (Lady Eleanor Holles BC)
Coach: Ian South (Kingston RC)

* Sarah had previously represented GB at Junior level as a cox in 1985.

3 girls and coach at table under umbrella

From left: Tegwen Rooks, Tara Byrne, Robyn Morris, Ian South. (Photo © Sarah Ockendon.)

The Almanack described this crew’s performance in the final as, “A very encouraging result for a crew small in stature but stroked in a determined fashion.” Tegwen, Sarah and Robyn all went on to represent GB at senior lightweight level.

Double scull (12th out of 12)

B: Leanne Hutton (Lady Eleanor Holles BC)
S: Harriet Elson (Lady Eleanor Holles BC)
Coach: Doug Halse (Bedford High School RC)

Coxless pair (7th out of 9)

B: Eleanor Zaremba (Lea RC)
S: Jane Fearnall (Royal Chester RC)
Coach: Andy Turner (Royal Chester RC)

Young rowers lining up with country placards

The 1990 World Rowing Junior Championships opening ceremony was proud but basic. It also illustrations the transition from wooden to composite blades going on at the tme. (Photo: Sarah Ockendon’s personal collection.)

Match des Seniors

These European under-23 Championships took place in Linz Ottensheim in Austria from 27-29 July.

Double scull (1st out of 4)

B: Adrienne Grimsditch (Kingston RC)
S: Suzanne Kirk (Tideway Scullers School)
Coach: Maurice Hayes (Kingston RC)

Adrienne had represented GB at Junior level for the previous four years, racing with Suzanne in 1987 when they came seventh. Suzanne had been in the quad at the senior World Championships in 1989 as well as having been the single sculler at the Match des Seniors in 1988.

Maurice Hayes described in Rowing how they, “Led from the start and managed to shake off the Swiss challenge to be second 500m to be clear by 1,000m. They then continued to row steadily away from the field to win by some 14 seconds – the biggest margin of the Championships – in a time that would have placed them fifth at Lucerne (which was rowed in a fair tailwind this year).”

Adrienne and Suzanne’s win was the first ever GB women’s openweight gold medal at a major Championships (Senior or Under-23), and only the second at all, the first being Lin Clark and Beryl Crockford’s gold in the lightweight double sculls at the World Championships in 1985. Given that both golds were in doubles, it’s at least mildly ironic that Britain still tended to prioritise sweep boats over sculling, a strategic focus which only changed (with subsequent success, of course) after the 1996 Olympic Games.

Coxless pair (3rd out of 3)

B: Catriona McCallum (Clyde ARC)
S: Kirsty Boyd (Clyde ARC)

The three crews in the race crossed the line “in a blanket finish”, according to Maurice Hayes in Rowing, who added that it was therefore a shame they didn’t actually get a medal – the rules require another crew to be beaten for one to be awarded, and frustratingly a fourth entry, from Greece, had scratched.

Single scull (6th out of 7)

Jackie Thomas (Upper Thames RC)

Lightweight single scull (10th out of 11)

Helen Bowsher (Upper Thames RC)

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© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2019.