The 1993 World Rowing Championships took place at Roudnice in what was then Czechoslovakia from 29 August to 5 September. There were 71 openweight and 32 lightweight entries from 30 countries. This was the largest total number of women’s crews and of nations they represented yet seen at any international regatta, up from the previous records set in 1991.
After the 1992 Olympics, when the entire Games had attracted almost twice the number of athletes that had been expected and infrastructure planned for, the governing bodies various sports were charged by the International Olympic Committee to propose how the number of competitors in their discipline should be reduced. FISA, the governing body of world rowing, proposed both that a qualification system be introduced and that the women’s pair be dropped from the programme to make way for the lightweight double, and at the time of the 1993 World Championships, this was the state of affairs, although the pair was later reinstated at the expense of the coxless four.
The 1993 World Championships were the first to include what were then called disabled events, although FISA’s results page doesn’t include them.
Coaching and squad formation
After the 1992 Olympics, which had seen much-criticised last-minute changes to the lineups for all three women’s sweep crews, Women’s Chief Coach Bob Michaels, who had held the role for three years, returned to his native Greece to take up the post of Chief Coach there. The women’s team’s washup report after the 1992 Olympics commented, “A full time professional coach is being sought for the men, it has been advertised early in order to obtain someone of calibre… The women’s coach will be a part-time position, the vacancy has not yet even been advertised – how can we hope to employ someone competent on a part-time salary for a full time job? … [and] by the time the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA) gets round to advertising, all the qualified people who are prepared to accept a part-time position will have been long gone.”
As he had on several occasions before, the first time as far back as 1981, Ron Needs stepped in to help and was appointed Chief Coach. Regatta magazine reported that, “[He] holds the post for just one year while the ARA [Amateur Rowing Association] works to raise funds to make the post full time.” In the squad strategy document Ron issued in December 1992 he clearly showed that the women’s squad would have to be run very differently for the 1993 season, stating, “Resources will be more limited than last year and it is therefore intended to run a relatively small squad and to settle its composition earlier than in the last two years. This will give us our best chance to achieve the prime objective, to improve the performance of our best athletes so that we can have a firm base of good quality from which to move forward and win our first medals in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.” Quite a lot of the 17 openweight women who had rowed or sculled at the 1992 Games continued, although a number either decided or were forced by injury to stop including Annabel Eyres, Kate Grose and Tish Reid who had sustained a bad back injury.
The result of Ron’s strategy was that the final openweight team was just a coxless four and a pair, all six of whom had been at the Olympics the previous year.
Miriam Batten’s university coach Pete Proudley, who had also coached her in 1991 and 1992, continued to work with her and Jo Turvey in the pair. Richard Tinkler of Thames Tradesmen coached the four.
All three of the lightweight boats – which, in the end, were unchanged from the previous year apart from one person in the four – worked with the same coaches as they had in 1992: Bill Mason for the four, Rosie Mayglothling for the double, and Ron Needs for single sculler Sue Key. Tony Reynolds, who had assisted David Lister in 1991 and then Bill Mason in 1992 with the lightweight four, was appointed Chief Coach of the lightweight women.
Jurgen Grobler, who had moved to Britain from what had been East Germany in early 1991 when he was engaged by Leander Club to coach Steve Redgrave’s pair, was appointed as the GB Men’s Chief Coach. In an interview with Regatta magazine in June 1993, Grobler, who had been Chief Coach of the hugely successful women’s team in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, said, “The British women’s team was quite successful in 1991 – a bronze medal for the pair, the four and the double in the final. Then they pulled more and more in to make a bigger team… By changing everything around after Lucerne, they learned nothing more… Now all the coaches have changed, only Ron Needs is there from before… It takes time to build up a coaching team. With the men there is a system, the women play second fiddle. Of course, the system cannot itself produce success. Only people can do it, but to do so they must have a system in which they can work… Our women’s team are far behind at the moment… The key is to have a better training system and to stay with it.” He added, “The unemployed can do more training. Give them food, some free meals like [the men] get at Leander. Maybe the future is food vouchers for M&S and Waitrose!” In lieu of these, the 1993 GB women’s team all worked at least part time or were students.
The British international rowing schemes as a whole (men and women, openweight and lightweight, senior, under-23 and junior) had for some years been under the overall control of a Director of International Rowing. Mark Lees, who had held the post through the 1992 Olympics and was terminally ill, had not had his contract renewed after this and debate was ongoing about whether the role should even exist. For 1993, full selection power for both openweights and lightweights was devolved to the openweight Chief Coaches. The overall programme was supported administratively by an International Rowing Manager (Brian Armstrong).
Miriam Batten remembers, “After Barcelona, Jo [Turvey] and I decided we’d like to carry on for another four years, but because there wasn’t much organised initially, we just started training. Ron Needs was just brilliant and wrote the training programme based on what Jurgen was doing, and Pete Proudley came up at weekends from Southampton to coach us. We did our singles for a bit, training on our own and then we got into the pair and rowed out of the ARA at Hammersmith. We were really training hard, doing two sessions a day. I’d gone part time at work so I finished there at 2pm every day and I didn’t work on Fridays so I could do a really hard, long weekend. Jo was a student so she was able to make those times. We were really ramping up the training.”
Philippa Cross and Dot Blackie, who had both been in the eight at the 1992 Games, also trained in a pair out of the ARA.
As Ali Gill’s two-year doubles partnership with Annabel Eyres had come to an end, Ali initially teamed up in a new crew with Kim Thomas.
The openweight women’s squad crews trained in Henley at weekends where they were hosted by Upper Thames RC along with lightweight sculler Sue Key, who had two boats, one in Henley and one on the Tideway that she used during the week.
The lightweight four continued to be based at Imperial College where coach Bill Mason worked. In his report after the 1992 season, Bill had proposed, “A more concentrated group of 6-8 elite athletes training together on a continuous basis both on land and water with emphasis on singles and crew boats to improve standards.” However, Tonia Williams, stroke of the 1992 crew, lived in Nottingham where she had a good job and enjoyed living just a few minutes from the club, and also understandably preferred doing her winter single sculling on the non-tidal Trent rather than the Tideway.
The lightweight double, which was eventually unchanged from the previous year, often trained separately as Trisha Corless lived in Staines while Helen Mangan lived in Runcorn and had a young son.
The Sports Aid Foundation awarded annual grants to lightweights as well as openweights for the first time, Olympic and World finallists being eligible for ‘elite’ grants of £3,000 whilst others received £1,590. Women who were awarded grants for the 1992/1993 season were openweights Miriam Batten, Jo Turvey and Ali Hall (née Gill), and lightweights Alison Brownless, Annamarie Dryden, Sue Key, Tonia Williams, Claire Davies, Trisha Corless and Helen Mangan.
Ron Needs’ strategy document gloomily pronounced that “little new equipment is envisaged” because of lack of funding. Miriam Batten’s employers, Debenhams, generously bought her and Jo a new Empacher pair to row in.
Several of the women in the squad at the time were well aware that Ron was not only giving his time as a volunteer coach but frequently contributed to their costs of going to regattas abroad and, at some point in 1993, bought the four a new set of seats when theirs had disappeared.
In May 1993 Alison Brownless’s employer, the accountants Moore Stephens, announced that they would sponsor the women’s lightweight four to the tune of £10,000, which was used to fund them to compete in Paris and Lucerne, and to have a two-week training camp. Moore Stephens had also assisted the four financially when they raced at the Worlds in Montreal in 1992.
Winter assessment and racing
Head of the River Fours (7 November 1992)
The fastest women’s crew was a Runcorn/Staines/City of Sheffield lightweight quad containing the 1992 (and future 1993) lightweight double of Trisha Corless and Helen Mangan, along with Naomi Ashcroft and Janet Vickers, all beneficiaries of Rosie Mayglothling‘s development work in the North West.
The results from the British Indoor Rowing Championships in late 1992, over 2k, were:
- Ali Hall (8.42)
- Jo Turvey (8.42)
- Guin Batten (8.52)
- Annamarie Dryden (8.55)
- Astrid Heulin (8.59)
An official ‘winter’ results list shows that 27 openweight women, including five of the six eventually selected, submitted 5k scores. The top three were:
- Ali Hall (17.56)
- Miriam Batten (18.00)
- Jo Turvey (18.04)
The lightweights did three 5k erg tests, of which the top scores were:
Test 1: 5k (before Christmas)
- Annamarie Dryden (18.45)
- Sue Key (18.53)
- Tonia Williams (19.07)
Test 2: 5k
- = Sue Key and Tonia Williams (18.46)
- Nicola Cuming (18.49)
Annamarie is not listed for this test.
Test 3: 2.5k (April 1993)
- Annamarie Dryden (8.55)
- Tonia Williams (8.57)
- Nicola Cuming (9.04)
First open assessment (24 January 1993)
This took place in Henley, postponed by a week because the river had been in flood. Each session comprised two 2,500m downstream pieces in pairs, singles and doubles.
Note: Names shown in italics denote those who have previously represented GB at senior level and those in bold are women who went on to be selected in 1993.
Only two openweight pairs or doubles took part in each session. Miriam Batten/Dot Blackie were the fastest pair in the morning, while Fiona Freckleton/Caroline Christie were quickest in the afternoon. Kyra Howell/Patricia Plummer were the fastest double in the afternoon but their time was considerably slower than that of the two pairs.
Single sculls (morning – 15 sculled):
- Kim Thomas
- Rachel Stanhope (née Hirst)
- Aggie Barnett
- Sarah Merryman
- Gillian Lindsay
- Guin Batten
Single sculls (afternoon – 10 sculled):
1=. Kim Thomas and Aggie Barnett
3. Rachel Stanhope
4. Carole Dodds
5. Gillian Lindsay
6. Guin Batten
Rowing magazine noted that although Kim, Aggie and Rachel were the clear leaders, “They were markedly slower than the top lightweight Sue Key and Trisha Corless who rowed a few minutes later,” but excused this by saying,”But then they are rowers first, not scullers,” which is rather inaccurate in Rachel’s case as she’d been the GB under-23 single sculler in 1986 and 1987.
The magazine continued, “In the lightweight pairs races the two squad combinations of Alison Brownless/Claire Davies and Annamarie Dryden/Katie Brownlow could hardly be split and whilst clear winners in the morning session were only just ahead of the top Thames Tradesmen’s RC pair [Tracey Bennett/Claire McDougall-Smith] in the afternoon on the one run they completed.”
Lightweight sculls (morning)
- Sue Key
- Trisha Corless
- Helen Mangan
- Tonia Williams
- Nicky Dale
Lightweight sculls (afternoon)
- Sue Key
- Trisha Corless
- Helen Mangan
- Nicky Dale
- Naomi Ashcroft
Tonia did not take part in the afternoon.
Second open assessment (21 February 1993)
This was also at Henley and also involved double downstream pieces in each session, this time over 3,000m. Lightweights had to weigh in at under 64kg (the maximum individual racing weight for the World Championships being 59kg). The use of single maximum weights at trials for everyone was later criticised by the athletes on the basis that it didn’t fit with the fact that people would be given individual, different racing weights for the summer.
Lightweight, U23 and World Student Games triallists were not permitted to use big blades in sweep boats.
Openweight pairs (morning)
- Philippa Cross/Jo Turvey
- Sarah Merryman/Caroline Christie
Sarah and Caroline were then the fastest pair in the afternoon, finishing well ahead of others without international experience.
Openweight single sculls (morning)
- Anne Marden (a US Olympic medallist who lived and worked in London but was ineligible for the GB team)
- Ali Hall
- Kim Thomas
Ali Hall/Kim Thomas were then the fastest of three doubles combinations in the afternoon by a very long way.
Lightweight pairs (morning)
- Tracey Bennett/Claire McDougall-Smith
- Siobhan McKenna/Tegwen Rooks
- Sarah Birch/Jane Hall
Tracey Bennett/Claire McDougall-Smith also won in the afternoon when the second and third pairs from the morning didn’t race.
Lightweight singles (morning)
- Helen Mangan
- Trisha Corless
- Sue Appelboom
- Tonia Williams
- Naomi Ashcroft
Lightweight singles (afternoon)
- Trisha Corless
- Helen Mangan
- Tonia Williams
- Naomi Ashcroft
- Nicky Dale
Summing up after these trials, Tony Reynolds wrote, “I feel it is important to encourage young athletes, but at the same time, these athletes must fairly earn their place at closed trials.”
Women’s Eights Head (6 March 1993)
The fastest crew of the 186 that raced was Thames I, stroked by Miriam Batten and backed up by fellow internationals Philippa Cross, Katie Brownlow, Annamarie Dryden and Alison Brownless, as well as her sister Guin, which finished five seconds ahead of Tideway Scullers. However, the Thames crew was disqualified after it emerged that Katie Brownlow’s ARA registration had expired, so the pennant was awarded to TSS which had a similarly international line up including Rachel Hirst, Kate Grose, Jo Turvey, Annabel Eyres and Kate Miller.
Regatta magazine noted that, “General opinion was that the standard was very high this year.”
FISA Altitude camp (9-28 March 1993)
As in 1992, FISA ran an altitude camp in Mexico City where each national federation was offered two places. Miriam Batten and Jo Turvey were given the GB slots, and raced in a regatta there at the end of the camp in a double, comfortably beating a Hungarian combination and three local crews. They were coached by Penny Chuter.
Openweight closed assessment (27-28 March 1993)
These took place at the Docks. The aim was to select eight sweep rowers via a pairs matrix and to look at doubles combinations. Races were rowed over 1,500m with a running start.
The following 12 athletes were invited to take part:
Ali Hall and Kim Thomas also raced in a double.
Scullers’ Head (11 April 1993)
Ali Gill was the fastest woman, finishing an impressive 56th. Lightweights Helen Mangan and Naomi Ashcroft were second and third.
National openweight selection trials (16-17 April 1993)
For the first time GB openweight women’s trials took place on the 2,000m multilane course in Hazewinkel which rarely suffers from unrowable wind conditions as it nestles in a wood (although in certain circumstances this can make it unfair as one side gets more shelter than the other). This made a break with Nottingham where trials had been scuppered by rough water on so many occasions. The trials were focused on identifying ‘probable’ sweep combinations.
Separate “trials for [openweight] scullers in singles and doubles were intended to establish whether there were any contenders for a sufficiently competitive single or double scull.” As Ali Gill and Kim Thomas were double sculling at this point they seem not to have been at the Hazewinkel trials.
Openweight pairs (Race 1)
- Miriam Batten/Jo Turvey (7.18)
- Philippa Cross/Dot Blackie (7.29)
- Sarah Merryman/Caroline Christie (7.34)
- Guin Batten/Kathryn O’Malley (7.38.3)
- Kate Grose/Debbie Hopkins (7.38.4)
Openweight pairs (Race 2)
- Philippa Cross/Jo Turvey (7.34)
- Miriam Batten/Dot Blackie (7.36)
- Guin Batten/Caroline Christie (7.44)
- Kate Grose/Kathryn O’Malley (7.48)
- Sarah Merryman/Fiona Freckleton (7.58)
Single sculls (Race 1)
- Sue Key (lightweight) (7.55)
- Fiona Freckleton (8.01)
Only two raced. In the second race, Sue Key was the only sculler and recorded a time of 8.03.
Coxless four (Race 3)
Miriam Batten/Dot Blackie/Jo Turvey/Philippa Cross (6.57)
Coxless four (Race 4)
- Miriam Batten/Dot Blackie/Jo Turvey/Philippa Cross (6.49)
- Caroline Christie/Guin Batten/Kathryn O’Malley/Sarah Merryman (7.01)
Pairs (Race 3)
- Guin Batten/Caroline Christie (7.47)
- Kate Grose/Kathryn O’Malley (7.49)
- Sarah Merryman/Debbie Hopkins (7.50)
Kate Grose/Debbie Hopkins (7.47) were the only pair in Race 4.
Single sculls (Race 3)
- Sue Key (lightweight) (8.04)
- Fiona Freckleton (8.17)
Sue was the only sculler in Race 4 (7.59).
It’s notable that Fiona is mostly sculling rather than racing in pairs, and her performances certainly aren’t such that she would be a ‘dead cert’ for the team. In fact, she hadn’t actually been trialling or trying to row in the squad at all. After being ill in 1992, she’d decided that she probably wouldn’t row internationally again, but had carried on sculling for enjoyment, joining in with some squad sessions just for company.
“I decided I’d quite like to go to the Hazewinkel camp and trials because it was in the Easter holidays [she was a school teacher] and I like Hazewinkel: it’s good water, and it was nice to be with the girls. Ron said I could come along, and I did a couple of crew boats and my single but I didn’t really feel like it mattered, it was just fun and it was also nice to be there doing my thing. While we were there they measured everyone for their Worlds kit so they had all the sizes to try on and I remember standing in the queue saying, ‘I don’t really know why I’m here but as I am, measure me anyway.’ Then something happened – I can’t remember what – and as I’d driven out there, I just left and drove home. I felt really empowered, doing things on my terms, which was so different from in the past.”
Comparing the top four’s and top pair’s times with the predicted gold medal times for the year, both seemed to be viable options but a decision had to be made as Jo and Miriam could not row in both. Miriam explained how this was concluded, after the double had raced and realised they were not fast enough, in a later memo to her employers and sponsors at Debenhams, writing that, “Once the double containing Ali Hall [and Kim Thomas] had failed to make a good percentage gold medal time, it was decided to form a four of Ali, Fiona Freckleton, Dot Blackie and Philippa Cross. This allowed us [her and Jo] to concentrate on the pair.” The formation of the four followed some further testing on the Tideway and an ergo test in mid May, although as Fiona says, “How this four ever got the backing of anybody I don’t know because as far as I could see it just was created on a weekend some time in May.” Guin Batten was particularly furious at the time that the final four contained Ali and Fiona who had not been through the same final trials process as she had in Hazewinkel, although as a result of the conversation she had with Ron Needs on the subject she took up single sculling instead, which she is quick to admit was a “turning point” in her rowing career that led to her becoming the GB sculler in 1994 and beyond.
Lightweight assessment (16-17 April 1993)
The lightweight women did separate matrix trials at the Docks over the same weekend, which Claire Davies missed through illness.
All lightweight athletes had to weigh in under 63kg, and the pairs were not allowed to use big blades.
Lightweight sweep strokesiders:
1. Jane Hall
2. Claire McDougall-Smith
3. Tonia Williams
4. Vikki Filsell
5. Siobhan McKenna
Lightweight sweep bowsiders:
1. Tracey Bennett
2. Tegwen Rooks
3. Alison Brownless
4. Annamarie Dryden
5. Sarah Birch
1.= Trisha Corless and Helen Mangan
3. Nicky Dale
4. Ruth Rudkin
5. Naomi Ashcroft
6. Nicola Cuming
Early season racing
Duisburg (21-23 May 1993)
The headline to Geoffrey Page’s report in Rowing magazine about this event, where the conditions were near-perfect, was “British men outshone by women in Duisburg,” which sadly shows how far women’s rowing still had to go in terms of equal reporting; however they did, the men were the focus.
Jo Turvey and Miriam Batten won the pairs on both days, on the Sunday beating two Olympic silver medallists from Romania, and also finishing just under a second outside the course record. Geoffrey Page wrote in the Daily Telegraph that they “Had trouble with a crosswind at the start and hit several buoys before establishing a commanding lead and achieving a noteworthy triumph.”
The lightweight four, containing Jane Hall – Claire was still ill – raced in openweight as coach Bill Mason didn’t want them to have to get down to weight too early in the season, although they had also been entered in lightweight. They came third behind the Romanians and the Czechs on the Saturday but won on Sunday ahead of the Czechs (the Romanians didn’t race), one second outside the course record in what Chris Dodd described in Regatta as “a class field”. Their time was nearly half a minute inside the lightweight record. Dodd noted that the result, “Sets a poser for Britain’s heavyweight [sic] four,” who finished fifth in the same race on the Saturday, seven seconds [6.03 seconds, actually] behind the lightweights.” On the Sunday the openweights recorded a time one second faster than the lightweights in their separate heats, but finished seven seconds behind them in the final. Tonia remembers David Tanner, the Team Manager, commenting that they were rowing ‘like men’, “Which we took as a compliment because he meant that we were strong and not just whisking the blades through the water.”
The lightweight double of Helen Mangan and Trisha Corless were second on both days. Sue Key finished fourth in the lightweight single sculls on the Saturday, the only day she raced. Sue Appelboom, Naomi Ashcroft, Nicky Dale and someone from Thames Tradesmen’s (possibly Claire McDougall-Smith) also competed but didn’t qualify for finals. Sue Appelboom remembers, “There were about 30 entries with only one from each heat to qualify for the final. I didn’t make it [by 0.3 seconds] but my time was faster than Sue Key’s, who qualified in a different heat.”
The video below shows all of the lightweight boat’s main races. Sue Key is wearing Thames RC kit but the double and four are in GB colours.
Paris (12-13 June 1993)
Miriam Batten and and Turvey, “Maintained their unbeaten record this season” as Chris Dodd wrote in the Guardian, by winning the pairs on both days in dreadful conditions.
Suggestions were made, though, that this boat class was not as competitive as it had been in previous years, because it had been removed from the Olympic programme and it was felt that some nations might now be putting their top rowers into other boats.
Sue Appelboom won lightweight singles on both days, “Partly,” Sue says, “Because I was very angry with the organisers for some reason, which seemed to help.” Naomi Ashcroft was third on the Sunday and Nicky Dale fourth. Sue Key didn’t enter lightweight but came second in openweight singles on the Sunday with Kim Thomas third, 11 seconds behind her. Kim had been second the day before.
Helen Mangan and Trisha Corless won lightweight doubles on the Saturday. They didn’t race on the Sunday because Trisha had exams. Janet Vickers and Ali Sanders from City of Sheffield/Sheffield University came fifth.
The openweight four scratched on the Saturday but finished second on the Sunday. Fiona Freckleton remembers, “Racing in Paris was a complete nightmare. After the crew was formed, Richard Tinkler just spent the whole time telling me I couldn’t row and my view was that I didn’t hadn’t asked to be in this crew, I was sort of invited, so instead of telling me I’m so awful why don’t you just get on with it and try and coach us? But what actually happened on the Friday when we were training in Paris was that he said, ‘This is just awful, we can’t race like this,’ and he took me out of the crew and he went out and rowed in it himself! After that the others all said, ‘Actually, come back, all is forgiven.’ We didn’t race on the Saturday because he’d upset us so much, but we had a big crew discussion, and we did go out and race on the Sunday.” They beat the lightweights by 4.7 seconds.
The lightweight four finished second on Saturday (5.95 seconds off the winning German crew) with Jane Hall in the two seat and third on Sunday (11.10 seconds behind the winning Germans who may not have been the same people) with Claire Davies on board, “With the consequence that [Jane] Hall will almost certainly return by next weekend,” Chris Dodd wrote in the Guardian. A Thames Tradesmen’s crew of Vikki Filsell, Claire McDougall-Smith, Tracey Bennett and Martha Sweeny came third on the Saturday, just under 13 seconds behind the squad boat, and fourth on the Sunday, just over seven seconds down.
Chief Coach Tony Reynolds did indeed select Jane over Claire after the racing in Paris, although Claire appealed the decision on the basis that Tony had promised her that she would be trialled over a period of time, and only after she’d been able to complete two weeks of full-intensity training, rather than at a regatta in poor conditions. Annamarie later described the handling of the selection as “totally unprofessional and insensitive” in a review of the season sent to International Rowing Manager Brian Armstrong. Looking back on this decision point now, Tony is sympathetic, but with Claire’s winter back injury having been followed by a prolonged illness, understandably says that the most important thing for the crew was that they could train and race at Lucerne as their final unit.
Henley Women’s Regatta (19-20 June 1993)
Helen Mangan and Trisha Corless won lightweight doubles. Jo Turvey and Miriam Batten won openweight pairs.
The GB openweight four also won, although the final was a dissatisfying race with both they and their competitors, Bedford RC, struggling with steering in the gusty wind. Bedford eventually stopped rowing and after paddling across the line appealed for a foul, but this was not upheld. The GB lightweight four didn’t enter.
Kim Thomas won the open single sculls, after beating Guin Batten in the semi-final by a foot in a “scorching” time, as Regatta magazine put it.
Sue Appelboom won her fourth lightweight single sculls title. Sue Key didn’t compete.
Henley Royal Regatta (30 June-4 July 1993)
1993 finally saw the permanent introduction of a women’s event at Henley.
A bit of history
There had been invitation ‘test’ events in 1981 and 1982 for coxed fours, doubles and single sculls but the experiment was abandoned not least because at that time women did not race internationally over 2,000m and putting in a ‘short start’ for them took too much time out of an increasingly packed racing programme.
Since then, the GB women’s squad had campaigned for women’s events to be added. At the National Championships in 1990 Annabel Eyres and Ali Gill presented Peter Coni, the then Chairman of Henley Royal Regatta, with a silver salver engraved with the inscription “The Gentlemen’s Plate”, a dig at the name of one of the Henley Royal trophies, the Ladies Plate, which is for men’s eights. Coni himself actually supported the idea but was playing a careful political game as such changes had to be approved by the entire committee of management, many of whom did not share his views.
In 1993 the regatta’s hand was forced by the FISA World Cup. This had been introduced in 1990 for men and women single scullers who competed at a changing set of regattas plus Lucerne. For the 1993 season FISA had decided that one of these regattas would be Henley, which therefore had to include a women’s sculls event.
“I have always said,” Coni is quoted in Regatta as telling The Guardian, “That the most rewarding thing I’ve wanted to see before I leave was women’s rowing at Henley. They never believed me. But if it comes as a result of the women’s World Cup then I am a happy bloke.” Coni had stood down as Chairman in January 1993 after being diagnosed with cancer, having held the post since 1978, and died 10 days after the regatta.
The eight British women who raced in the Women’s Sculls – Ali Hall, Helen Mangan, Caroline Dring, Kim Thomas, Trisha Corless, Sue Key, Guin Batten and Kate Grose – were all current or future (Guin) senior internationals apart from Caroline who was an Under-23 international. Guin, Kate, Kim and Caroline all had to qualify; the others were given direct entries. They were all drawn against overseas opposition and all lost their first round races. A photo of Trisha Corless outside the boat tents was published on the front cover of The Times, though, which was unusual for a sports photo, very rare for a rowing photo, unprecedented for a photo of a rowing woman, and off the scale for a photo of a lightweight woman.
The event was won by Maria Brandin of Sweden who had finished fifth at the 1992 Olympic Games. The Olympic champion, Elisabeta Lipa of Romania lost in the semi-final. Ali Hall praised the regatta’s new chairman, Mike Sweeney, for his “Fresh, younger, go-ahead approach,” in an article in The Times which, however, quoted Sweeney as being concerned that the good calibre of the entry relied on it being part of the World Cup and as it was uncertain whether Henley would remain part of that programme the next year, he could not promise that the women’s sculls would remain part of the regatta. It’s hardly spoiling the suspense to say that the event did continue, as part of the World Cup for the following two years, and then in its own right after that, becoming the Princess Royal Challenge Cup in 1997.
Lucerne (9-11 July 1993)
Yet again the top performers in the GB women’s team were the lightweight coxless four which won by five seconds after being down for the first part of the race. In an unidentified newspaper clipping, Mike Rosewell wrote that they, “Trailed both the Germans and the Americans in the first 1,000m, but totally eclipsed the rest of the field in the second kilometre,” while Chris Dodd explained in Regatta that they, “Rowed a brilliant second half of their final… to come through from fifth to first.” Geoffrey Page, who may have only been watching at the finish, said they “were in total command,” while Hugh Matheson said in the Independent that they, “Won with certainty over two American fours who finished a quarter second apart.” A Thames Tradesmen’s RC club crew comprising the 1988 international Vikki Filsell and three other triallists, Tracey Bennett, Clare McDougall-Smith and Martha Sweeny, finished sixth, having won at Henley Women’s three weeks earlier.
Mike Rosewell continued, “The improving heavyweight [sic] coxless four held third place throughout their final and increased their World Championship hopes as did the lightweight double of Helen Mangan and Trisha Corless, who missed a bronze medal by inches (0.84 sec),” to come fourth, just five seconds behind the winners. Hugh Matheson noted that the lightweight double, “Had a much more efficient race to win their repechage after a poor row in the first round.” Coach Rosie Mayglothling later wrote that fourth, “Was not a true reflection of their ability.”
Regatta said that the openweight four, which had won their heat, “Rowed a spirited race,” and although their time was just one second faster than that of the lightweights (although caution must obviously always be exercised in comparing times between different races as conditions vary), both of the two crews that beat them were German, only one of which would be at the Worlds. “We came out of it thinking, ‘We can do this,'” Fiona Freckleton remembers. adding, “At its best it was brilliant but it was a bit up and down. I think by this time, Philippa, Ali and I had all had so many experiences where it hadn’t gone quite right, we were all desperate for something that was going to redeem us all. Dot was a bit less jaded than the rest of us but we were positive, although still realistic and rational about the fact that things might not turn out.”
After winning their heat, the pair of Jo Turvey and Miriam Batten was disqualified in the final. “They belted for 1,000m,” Chris Dodd wrote in Regatta, “But the French, whom they had beaten twice in Paris three weeks ago, were unstoppable, spurred on by their mothers’ spirited imitation of crowing cockerels [which can be heard in the video below]… The British crew then strayed out of their lane and, try as they might, Batten could not bring the boat back on station. They crossed the line third but were disqualified for the steering offence, adding misery to a poorly paced race.”
Sue Key was fifth in lightweight singles. Regatta described this as “disappointing”, while Geoffrey Page wrote in Rowing magazine. “Sue Key has not yet found the form this season that earned her a silver medal in the lightweight singles in Montreal [in 1992] and was last until the final 500m when she gained one place.” Sue Appelboom was ninth.
B: Jo Turvey (Tideway Scullers’ School)
S: Miriam Batten (Thames RC)
Coach: Pete Proudley (Southampton University BC)
Lightweight coxless four
Lightweight double scull
Lightweight single scull
Sue Key (Thames RC)
Coach: Ron Needs
The lightweight coxless four went to Sarnen in Switzerland for both warm weather acclimatisation (which turned out not to be at all necessary) and altitude training. This was Tonia Williams’ idea. “Now that this was our second year working with Bill, we were allowed to write our own script a little bit, and there was a discussion quite early on on the season about where we could go on training camp and I suggested Sarnen because it was beautiful and I’d been there a few years earlier with the Swiss rowing team when I was travelling in Europe,” she explains.
“Conditions there were perfect – a huge, azure blue lake, mirror-flat, reflecting mountains and hillside chalets and endless blue sky,” Wilma Brownless wrote in the Thames Journal, her club’s internal newsletter. “For twelve days we had unrelenting sunshine (a great help for keeping down to our strict target weights)… Flat water allowed us to relax, unwind and train well. Our host was the Swiss coach Harry Mahon who had coached Cambridge to victory earlier this year. We trained alongside the Swiss national team, the Danish lightweights and the New Zealand team (whom Tonia knew) as well as our own pace boat Dan and Ed from Imperial College [whom their Moore Stephens sponsorship had funded for this purpose].” Tonia adds, approvingly, “After the training camp we arrived at the World Championships fired up and laid back at the same time.”
Annamarie remembers, “We’d also had a lovely training camp in Banyoles earlier in the year when we had a real eureka moment when we all suddenly realised we’d worked out how to move the boat. In those two years we were kind of rowing the boat but suddenly we could really make it fly and there was an amazing special moment where you just think, ‘I want to capture this and put it in a bottle!’ Once you’ve got it as a crew then you can keep working to replicate it as best you could, so that was quite magical. The whole year was magical actually, 1993. Almost everything went right.”
These separate training camps for the four were key to Bill Mason’s approach. “Bill is somebody that likes to work outside the system,” Annamarie explains. “In 1992 the openweight women weren’t at the World Championships because they were doing the Olympic Games instead, so we’d been apart from them, in our own bubble, and that suited him. In 1993 I think Bill tried to replicate that as much as he could so he really did take us out of the rest of the squad as much as possible. We did our own stuff.” This meant that they didn’t constantly spend their time feeling like ‘second class citizens’ behind the openweight women; the general pecking order at the time, was that the men were more important than the women and openweights were more important than lightweights, so the lightweight women knew they were perceived by the overall management as the least important group, which clearly wasn’t a psychologically healthy environment and thus Bill tried to keep them away from it.
Meanwhile the pair went to Silvretta with Jurgen Grobler’s men’s squad, Jurgen (who had coached women in his native East Germany) being much more supportive of the GB women than previous men’s Chief Coaches. Miriam remembers them doing pieces with the lightweight sculler Peter Haining.
The openweight four and lightweight single sculler Sue Key went to Belgium. Fiona Freckleton wrote in her training diary, “We were the losers and the oddballs who were sent off to Hazewinkel.”
At the Championships
The first thing that everyone who raced at the 1993 World Championships mentions about them is the smell caused by a pig farm at one end of the course and a paper factory at the other. “I remember paddling down the course when we first got there and thinking ‘I’m going to vomit, I’m never ever going to be able to race in this place,’ it was awful!,” Annamarie says, adding, “By the weekend when we raced our final I didn’t notice it, though. Either we’d got used to it or they closed the factory at the weekend or maybe the wind changed direction.”
It was also very wet. And, according to Dot Blackie, the menu in the canteen at the course was “pretty much just potatoes”, to the extent that she still remembers the Czech word for potato today..
Lightweight coxless four (1st out of 6)
With their event being a straight final, the lightweight four had to get everything right first time.
Before they even went out to race, though, they had to decide what to wear. Normally, crews just race in their all in ones, “But I remember us having a big debate because it was raining and it was so cold. Jane, who was really young and was always bouncing around like a sort of Tigger, said, ‘Oh, we’ll be fine if we just wear our all in ones,’ but Wilma and I insisted on long everything – long sleeves, long legs. We didn’t have technical baselayer long sleeves in those days, and we decided we’d wear our blue long sleeved tops which were just just cotton so they got very wet,” Annamarie recalls. “And when we were sitting on the start and I turned round to Jane to say, ‘Good luck,’ just before we got called forward and she was taking her leggings off! and I remember saying, ‘Don’t take your leggings off, we won’t be dressed the same, we can be disqualified,’ and all the way down the course this was swirling round my brain, because at that time everyone had to match, right down to your socks. That said, the uniformity rule wasn’t enforced like the slightly more relaxed dress rules are nowadays, so we got away with it.” She adds that just as they were getting afloat for their final they’d heard that the men’s lightweight eight, which was expected to win, not only hadn’t won but hadn’t even medalled, and the obvious extension to that was the women’s lightweight four was also expected to win, so could the same fate befall them? “I remember thinking, ‘Just close it out of your mind, don’t think about it,'” she says, “But the distraction of Jane’s leggings definitely helped me do that!” Wilma’s recollection of the whole legging issue is slightly different; “We were slightly getting late to the start, so we didn’t have time to take them off, which we would usually have preferred to do, but somehow Jane managed to do that.”
Unlike the year before when they hadn’t really paced the race quite right which may have contributed to them being rowed down in the closing stages, this time they produced a textbook performance, although they still maintained a ferocious rating throughout, often higher than that of the crews challenging them. “Bill had really drilled into us how we should do it. We were really, really well prepared, and it was a blinder of a race,” Wilma remembers. “I remember all of the calls being exactly when they were supposed to be,” Annamarie adds, “And when we pushed, the push happened and it all worked and the lifts were, it was just a dream.”
Chris Dodd wrote in Regatta, that “The Americans led… only until the Bill Mason-coached quartet found full stride,” while the Almanack said, “The crew was always up at the font of the race… responding to all challenges thrown at them in mid-race and finally making their decisive move for gold in the last 300m.” They won by 3.57 seconds, which the it described as, “A victory achieved with much style.”
Their four’s gold medal was hugely significant, being the first Championships win for British women in a sweep boat in the 40 years that women had been racing internationally from the 1954 European Women’s Rowing Championships officially onwards. It was also only the second gold medal ever (the first having been the lightweight double in 1985), and Annamarie and Wilma became the first British women to have won three Worlds medals, in both cases with a 100% hit rate.
None of this had any impact on Tonia’s consciousness until afterwards, though. “We were just in the moment, in the process, sticking to the training plan in our own little bubble to the extent that I don’t think we had the sense of how good we were until we’d done the deed at the World Championships, and then when we popped out the other end of it and were being interviewed on TV that the reality hit!” she says.
Wilma wrote later in the Thames Journal, “I would like to emphasise how much we owe our gold medal to those who have supported us and shown us such generosity along the way.” Along with funding sources already mentioned, she thanked the members of Thames RC’s ‘Piggy Club’ for buying a lightweight Janousek pair for her to train in over the winter, and Bob Janousek for loaning them a new racing boat as the squad one was older.
When they got back to the UK the four were invited to various functions, nominated for awards, invited to 10 Downing Street, and were even given a makeover for a photoshoot by the Daily Express, the results of which can’t be included here for copyright reasons but are truly stunning.
Coxless pair (4th out of 11)
Unlike the lightweight four, Miriam and Jo needed to get through a heat and possible repechage to reach their final. In their heat they finished second, 3.57 seconds down on French who had led from the beginning, and who were the only crew to progress directly to the final. However they then qualified via the repechage which they won by nearly three seconds.
A report in the Thames Journal described what happened in he final. “In the women’s coxless pairs there was disappointment for Miriam Batten and Jo Turvey who despite lying second for most of the race, only finished fourth. Miriam and Jo, knowing the French pair would be their main opposition, stuck with them over the first 1,000m but then could not lift their pace for the final 500m and were rowed through by Australia and the United States.” They finished just over four seconds down on the bronze medallists.
Regatta magazine reported that they, “Threw their all at the French pair only to drop from second to fourth after 1,500m – a tactic that failed,” while Rowing said that they, “Stuck with the French for the first half of the course but were unable to lift their pace for the finish and Australia and the American McCagg sisters rowed through them to take silver and bronze.” The Almanack lamented that they, “Performed below their potential and expectations.”
“We were favourites to win because we’d done so well at Duisburg,” Miriam says, dismissing the fact that their result was an improvement on the fifth place they’d got at the Olympics in 1992. “The French rowed through us and then the Americans got us and the Australians who’d been juniors the previous year. I was gutted. I was so upset about coming fourth, it was horrendous.”
Lightweight double scull (6th out of 12)
The lightweight double also got to the main final in their event via the repechage, although they had to work very hard for it. With just two crews to qualify from five they were in third place after 500m but then rowed through the Germans maintaining an efficient, even pace for the rest of the race. This was exactly what they and their coach Rosie Mayglothling had planned they should do, having decided to adjust their race profile to focus on the Germans and take them on from half way rather than waiting to go in the last 500m.
In the final, Rowing reported, “Britain’s Corless and Mangan, who had produced two good sculls earlier in the week, could not keep up with the faster pace of the final and finished sixth,” 14.56 seconds behind bronze.
Rosie Mayglothling, reflects, “In 1992 they had came fourth but then they were sixth in 1993, and for me it was a great shame because I really felt that had they been able to train more together in the second year they could have moved on more and won a medal. In both years they beat people at the Worlds that had beaten them at Lucerne so they’d come on in that last bit of the season each time when they were together but I think if they’d done a bit more together throughout the season they would have improved more.”
Looking back on it now, Trisha says, “We should have got a better result but we came sixth. I don’t know why. I probably trained harder; I certainly did more volume that year than I did the previous year, so it was a bit disappointing.”
One factor may have been that the quality of women’s lightweight sculling, both double and single, arguably went up in 1993 after the announcement that lightweight doubles would be part of the Olympic programme for 1996 let more countries to target it with their top athletes.
Lightweight single scull (8th out of 15)
Sue needed to finish third in her first round heat of five to progress directly to the semi-final, but missed doing so by four seconds although her time would have comfortably qualified her in both of the other two heats. She then, “Produced a solid performance in the repechage to qualify for the semi-final,” according to the Thames Journal.
In the semi, from which three would qualify for the main final, she was sixth until 1,500m after which she rowed through France and Germany, but finished 2.36 sec off the crucial third place. Rowing said she, “Left herself too much to do in her semi-final and despite producing the fastest last 500m, only finished fourth.”
“The B final was just a race too far – by then I was disappointed at not having made the final,” Sue says. She finished third in that race, putting her ninth overall although her result was later upgraded to eighth after the Bulgarian sculler who finished immediately ahead of herm was disqualified.
Coxless four (8th out of 11)
The four’s racing stated with a heat of five from which one would qualify directly for the final. The GB crew finished third, after moving up to second at about the half way point before dropping back again and crossing the line over six seconds down on the Australian winners. Fiona Freckleton’s memory is that although they thought they’d had a lucky draw for their first round, with the expected medallists all in the other heat, “It turned out that we were very unlucky with the lane draw. There was a strong head wind in our lane (1) and very little on the far (lane 6) side of the course,” she says, “We were going along fine, and then we seemed to stand still while the crews on the other side shot off. The consequence of this was that we ended up in a repechage with the eventual gold and silver medallists. It was very disappointing.” The Australian crew which won the heat in lane 5 finished sixth in the final.
They needed to come in the top two in the rep to qualify for the final. They were third to 1,000m but five seconds off second place and although they then produced the second fastest third and fourth 500m times it was too much to make up. Rowing reported, “Britain missed out on their place in the final after finishing third behind the [eventual] gold medallists and the US [silver medallists]… and looked just off the pace.”
In the five-boat B final they held second place most of the way behind Belarus. In the last 500m, Philippa Cross raised the rate exactly right to hold off a late challenge by the Czech Republic, eventually finishing just 0.28 seconds ahead of them to record an overall place of eighth.
Did having a small squad meet the strategic objective, “To improve the performance of our best athletes so that we can have a firm base of good quality from which to move forward and win our first medals in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996”? And was it even the right objective at the start of an Olympiad, or just a convenient one when GB women’s rowing was desperately short of money and coaches?
Ali reflects, “I think that there was always a sense that you would never get the strength in depth that you needed if you focused on small boats because you’d train up couple of people, they’d start doing well, and whenever they got a result, they stop rowing because they’d feel, ‘That was really hard, I’ve got a result now, that’s it, I’ve had enough now.'” And of course it was terribly hard financially and in terms of professional career sacrifice for people to have long rowing careers in those days. Ali continues, “A lot of the coaches and a lot of the hierarchy would say the only way to make progress with the women was to invest in getting an eight that is good enough and make the eight the priority boat and the smaller boats a lower priority because you’d have to train 10-12 people to make the eight successful and so as opposed to having one pair that’s much better than everybody else, you’d get the consistency.”
World Junior Championships
These took place from 4-8 August in Årungen, Norway, and saw GB junior women win their first World medal. Germany won twelve of the 14 medals on offer across the men’s and women’s events.
Coxless pair (3rd out of 10)
B: Tessa Morris (Lady Eleanor Holles BC)*
S: Libby Henshilwood (Bedford High School BC)**
Coach: Louise Kingsley (Kingston Grammar School BC)
Assistant Team Manager John Layng wrote later in the Almanack that the pair, “Produced an astonishing turn of speed to win their heat by half a length over Australia,” in what turned out to be the fastest first round time in the event,” and, in fact, a new world best time for junior women. In the final, he continued, “With a fairly slow start the girls consolidated their position by cruising through the field to be fourth at half way,” before passing the Germans to take the bronze medal, just a canvas down on the second-placed Romanians, and only a length behind the gold medal-winning Australians.
Double scull (9th out of 19)
B: Mary Stevens (St Ives RC)*
S: Claire Fox (Kingston RC)
Coach: Ian South (Kingston RC)
John Layng wrote in Rowing magazine that they were last after 500m in the small final but then “Cautiously applied pressure [on those ahead of them] to reach fourth at 1,000m, and third at 1,500m. They then challenged… for second place but were unable to persist and crossed the line third.”
* Denotes having previously rowed for GB at the Junior Worlds.
This under-23 regatta took place from 23-25 July at Ioannia in Greece. Britain was represented in four women’s events.
Coxless pair (8th out of 10)
B: Samantha Green (Kingston RC)
S: Robyn Morris (Kingston RC)
Single scull (8th out of 9)
Alison Mowbray (Bedford RC)
Lightweight double scull (5th out of 6)
B: Claire Payne (Kingston RC)
S: Sarah Routledge (Tideway Scullers’ School)
Lightweight single scull (7th out of 8)
Alison Whittingham (Tideway Scullers’ School)
World Student Games
These took place from 13-17 July 1993 in Buffalo, Canada.
Phoebe White won the silver medal in the lightweight single sculls. Phoebe then subbed for Tegwen Rooks in the lightweight pair with Siobhan McKenna after Tegwen suffered a recurrence of a back injury. The crew came sixth.
© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2019.