The 1995 World Rowing Championships took place on Lake Kaukäjarvi in Tampere, Finland from 20-27 August. 86 openweight and 50 lightweight crews raced from 38 countries, a massive increase on all counts from all previous years.
The main reason for this was that, for the first time, these Championships also served as the qualification regatta for the following year’s Olympics, resulting in double-figure entries in the Olympic boat classes which now also included lightweight double sculls. The addition of lightweight pairs to the programme had very little effect on the total, attracting only five entries, and the number of lightweight coxless fours dropped to five too.
After the 1992 Olympic Games, which had attracted almost twice the total number of athletes across all sports than had been expected (the reason why the qualification system was introduced), FISA, rowing’s international federation, had also responded to the International Olympic Committee’s request that it think of ways to reduce its number of competitors by proposing to drop the women’s pair from the programme. In the face of protest national federations and following the introduction of the lightweight double, the pair was reinstated and the coxless four removed instead.
In 1995 a pair from South Africa and a lightweight double from Slovakia were the first crews to represent those countries at a World Championships; the former because South Africa was once again permitted to compete in world sport following its emergence from the apartheid era since the election of Nelson Mandela as President in 1994, the latter because Slovakia had only become an independent state in 1993.
After the problems caused with the new start of “Set, go!” that had been introduced in 1994, technology was brought in, creating the start that is still in use today: “Attention”, followed by a red light and then, after a variable interval, a green light with a simultaneous beep. The option of cancelling the start – after the red light – was reintroduced. This was trialled successfully at Lucerne. The equipment was then shipped to Finland for use at the Worlds.
Funding and coaching
The 1995 season saw a turning point in terms of the funding and therefore the setup of GB women’s international rowing a major sponsorship deal was signed with XP plc (a designer and manufacturer of specialist electronic equipment). It was a two-year deal until the end of the 1996 season for £100,000 which not only paid for a full time chief coach for the women’s squad but also supported training camps and racing costs and, crucially, funded 12 athletes in 1995 to the tune of £100 a week from the beginning of January 1995 through to the World Championships, although Miriam Batten remembers that the actual amount each woman received was reduced if she had other income. While modest (although nevertheless welcome) Sports Aid Foundation grants had previously contributed to the living costs of the top few rowers, all previous GB internationals had had to work at least part time, rely on student grants (and therefore combine rowing with their studies), or be supported by parents or family. At long last, the members of the main openweight group would be able to focus on training full time. That said, several of the squad did work part-time to keep their careers going or to maintain something else in their lives.
Bill Mason, who had coached the gold and silver medal-winning lightweight women’s four for the previous three years and had also coached the GB lightweight women’s single and double in the late 1980s, was appointed to the Women’s Chief Coach role on secondment from his job as Chief Coach at Imperial College where he had been incredibly successful.
More about the XP plc sponsorship
As is the case with many such sponsorship deals, XP plc’s very generous support was instigated by personal relationships; in this case it was driven by the company’s Chairman, Larry Tracey. Larry had been a rower himself and had trialled for the GB men’s lightweight squad in the 1970s. He was still a passionate supporter of the sport, and he and his wife happened to be good friends of Mike Spracklen and his wife who lived near them in Marlow. Spracklen had coached the British men’s coxed four containing Steve Redgrave which won at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, GB’s first Olympic rowing gold since 1948, and then Redgrave’s pair which won gold at the 1988 Games, after which he’d taken up national coaching roles in Canada and then the US.
Larry’s involvement with supporting GB women’s rowing was the result of a chance encounter with former GB international Flo Johnston at Lucerne regatta in 1994. Larry knew Flo as she’d started her rowing career at Marlow RC, and had also been coached by Spracklen for the World Championships in 1985 where she paired with Belinda Holmes who was Redgrave’s girlfriend at the time. Flo mentioned that the GB women’s team didn’t have any funding. When Larry met up with Spracklen later the same day, he asked him what he thought it would take for GB women to win an Olympic rowing medal, which he firmly believed they should be able to do. Spracklen’s reply, he says, was that they needed:
- A world-class, full-time Chief Coach
- Full-time athletes
- Those athletes training together as a group throughout the year.
As the first two of these needed money, Larry got the agreement of the XP plc board to provide the sponsorship.
This hugely generous deal was not without strings attached. First, although the new Chief Coach it funded would be responsible for the whole of the GB women’s squad, including day-to-day management and selection of all the openweight and the lightweight crews, his focus and the athlete support was exclusively for an openweight eight which effectively required that to be the top crew boat. Such a stipulation by a commercial sponsor is pretty unprecedented, but there was a logic to it; the GB women’s squad had been run down in terms of numbers (in 1994, the whole openweight team was just three people), not least because little development work had been done beneath the top tier for several years, and requiring there to be an eight would guarantee that the size of the squad would be expanded – with more seats available, more people would stick with the programme. If the top two athletes were doing a pair, say, there might not even be a second boat, and/or its quality would be lower so athletes would give up and too few would be training to the right standard. “It was absolutely the right thing to do. It was an absolute game changer,” squad-member Dot Blackie reflects.
Bill was assisted by Lightweight Women’s Co-ordinator Tony Reynolds, Rosie Mayglothling who worked with Guin Batten and the upcoming scullers, Ron Needs who coached on women’s training weekends, and Alan ‘AB’ Bennett who was described as “Mr Fixit”.
Following the launch of the National Lottery in 1994, the GB Olympic rowing team (both men and women) was awarded £116,300 for new boats and blades.
Some of the remainder of the openweight squad, and the lightweights, who weren’t covered by the XP sponsorship, continued to receive very limited SAF grants, but otherwise had to provide all of their living, training and racing expenses.
Alison Brownless’s employer, Moore Stephens, once again sponsored her boat.
An interview with Bill Mason published in Rowing magazine in late 1994 described how he planned to go about moulding crews. “Mason likes to sort out his crew combinations early in the year so he can experiment with equipment and gearings to get the most out of each crew. ‘It’s too late to find out during the regatta season that a particular combination is not fast enough.'”
His openweight squad comprised three groups: the top, funded group (which mostly trained in Henley, Kingston and on the Tideway), consisting of existing openweight and lightweight internationals who were encouraged to scull for the first part of the year; a second group, also training in Marlow, based around the 1994 development group which had won the eights at the National Championships and come third at the Commonwealth Regatta but also contained upcoming junior internationals and under-23s; and a development group consisting mainly of club rowers who would be “drawn into the squad structure via regular training sessions, lectures and assessments.” This group included a number of women who were new to rowing who had been drawn in through an Amateur Rowing Association campaign, advertised through the Daily Mail, to attracted tall, strong athletes from other sports to try rowing on a fast-track programme which built on their knowledge and experience of how to train and compete at a high level. The development group was run by Doug Parnham, based at the Women’s Rowing Centre at Thames Tradesmen’s RC.
Given that there had only been two sweep internationals in 1994 (Miriam Batten and Jo Turvey), where did Bill conjour the rest of his experienced top group from? There were various sources. First, there were five returning 1992 Olympians: Dot Blackie, who had then been in the GB four in 1993 and done some early-season regattas in 1994 in a four in which Miriam and Jo doubled up; Gillian Lindsay who had been only 18 in 1992 and had not subsequently stayed involved in the GB squad; Philippa Cross, who had also been in the four with Dot in 1993 but then stopped; Kareen Marwick, who had first rowed for GB back in 1983 but had only been sculling since 1992; and Ali Gill, who had been in the double scull at the 1988 Olympics as well as 1992, and then done the four in 1993, but had subsequently had a back injury. She remembers, “Billy rang me up and said, ‘You’ve got to come back,’ and my initial reactions was, ‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ but then I got quite into the idea, and if someone keeps ringing you up and saying, ‘I’d really like you to row, this is what the vision is,’ you come round, and when I did stat rowing again I really enjoyed it, and realised I’d missed it.”
The next source of athletes was the Commonwealth Games group which Ron Needs and Rosie Mayglothling had got going the previous year, precisely because they realised that development was needed if the squad wasn’t going to starve of talent with the necessary experience. Those who made the transition to Bill’s squad for 1995 were Cath Bishop, Helen Raine, Sue Walker and cox Suzie Ellis.
Then there were Kate Pollitt and Kate Templeton who were members of Thames, as many of the other top squad members were, and Lisa Eyre from Royal Chester RC who came in directly through trials.
And, of course, there were the lightweights. It is notable that after recurring commentary over the years that a reason for the GB women’s openweight team’s lack of medals was that they were smaller, and therefore underpowered, compared with their competitors, Bill positively encouraged the presence of lightweights in his top group. Having been a lightweight who successfully won seats in the GB men’s openweight team in the 1970s himself, he was quoted in Rowing as saying, “More and more lightweights are swapping into heavyweight [sic] teams and the gap between events is a little as four to six seconds.” One of the 1993 World Champion four which had also won silver medals in 1991, 1992 and 1994, was Annamarie Stapleton who switched to openweight, encouraged by Bill. She remembers him telling her that she was big enough to do heavyweight and as her lightweight erg scores were excellent, and would get better if she were heavier, that he believed she could make it at the heavier category.
Two other members of that crew – Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless and Jane Hall – also joined his group. In the short term at least, this worked for all concerned as they wanted to continue being coached by him, and he needed athletes of their calibre to set the quality standard in his group. But they could no longer be his priority and this arrangement arguably split the total pool of lightweights into separate camps.
Lightweight Co-ordinator Tony Reynolds emphasised the supremacy of sculling performance in trials for the lightweight squad, writing in Regatta magazine, “The top boat for the next two years is the double scull, so any athlete who is a serious contender must show ability in the single.” All such athletes were therefore to scull at the first three on-water trials.
Winter training, assessment and racing
This year, the British International Rowing Office ran all winter long-distance trials at Peterborough with men on the Saturday and women on the Sunday. Bench pull tests were also added to the usual 5k and 2k erg tests for off-water assessment, and there was physiological monitoring at the British Olympic Association.
Head of the River Fours (12 November 1994)
Ali Gill’s Upper Thames quad was the fastest women’s crew and Miriam Batten joined three of the lightweight coxless four which had won the silver medal at the World Championships (as well as gold the year before), Annamarie Stapleton, Jane Hall and Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless, to win the coxless four event.
First open assessment (20 November 1994)
1994 team members did not have to attend this first trial although some did.
Everyone raced in singles into a headwind. Caroline Dring (a 1992 and 1994 under-23) was the fastest overall, followed by lightweight Alison Brownless. Sarah Springman, an international triathlete who was one of the Daily Mail recruits and had only started sculling a few months before, was 15th.
British Indoor Rowing Championships (26 November 1994)
Previous openweight internationals weren’t obliged to take part in the fourth British ergo championships, leaving the medals wide open for the next generation of rowers that the GB women’s squad so badly needed in boats.
Racing took place over 2,500m, as was standard for indoor rowing at the time [if anyone knows why, I’d love to know – Ed], and there were heats as well as finals.
Cath Bishop won the openweight event in an impressive 8.44.3, 2.5 seconds ahead of Sarah Springman. Lisa Eyre was third in 8.49.0, and Kate Templeton fourth in 8.49.2.
The top two places in the lightweight event went to established internationals, though, with Trisha Corless winning in 9.11.2, followed by Phoebe White. Lucy Hart, who had been in the Commonwealth team, was third.
Second open assessment (18 December 1994)
80 women attended this event which was rowed in headwind conditions once again.
Rowing magazine reported that, “Bill Mason was already allowing the girls [sic] to attend in pairs as he tried to create a continuously competitive environment within his core group.” Two pairs from the less experienced end of Bill’s top group tied for first place: Jackie Eastwood/Kate Templeton and Rowan Carroll/Sue Walker, indicating an encouraging depth at this level, but with their absolute speed somewhat in question as lightweight-turned-openweight Annamarie Stapleton was third overall in a single scull. Cath Bishop/Helen Raine, were fourth.
Taking the single sculls results on their own, Annamarie won by an impressive 29 seconds from Trisha Corless, the 1994 GB lightweight single sculler and the 1992 Olympic sculler Tish Reid who tied for second place. Tish had a serious back injury after the Barcelona Games although she’d recovered to race at the 1994 Commonwealth regatta. Phoebe White, who had been in the lightweight double in 1994, was fourth.
Many of the other 1994 GB team members had been sent to the second European Team Cup, an ergo event in France where they came second.
Third open assessment (22 January 1995)
Peterborough was even windier for the last of the open assessments, leading to the women’s races being shortened slightly.
The top pairs and scullers were:
- Kate Pollitt/Dot Blackie (openweight 2-): 24.21
- Guin Batten (openweight 1x): 24.54
- Gillian Lindsay/Sue Walker (openweight 2-): 25.05
- Cath Bishop/Fiona Freckleton (openweight 2-): 25.07
- Liz Walsh/Lisa Eyre (openweight 2-): 25.25
- Miriam Batten (openweight 1x): 25.26
- Caroline Dring/Claire Hodgson (openweight 2-): 25.33
- Jackie Eastwood/Kate Templeton (openweight 2-): 25.50
- Claire Glackin/Green (openweight 2-): 25.51
- Annamarie Stapleton (openweight 1x): 25.53
- Sue Appelboom (lightweight 1x): 26.04
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 1995.
A later newspaper article about the Battens noted that, “Both women admit that losing to a sister is a painful business…. ‘We had a real ding-dong…,’ Guin recalls. ‘I’d only just come back after 12 weeks out with a back injury. Miriam was used to being top dog in the squad; she had even beaten me in training the weekend before. I was set off 30 seconds after Miriam, and I managed to catch her up after eight minutes, but she simply would not let me pass her. The spectators couldn’t believe their ears when we proceeded to have a shouting match for the rest of the race.”
Following this, 20 of the squad went to Banyoles for a week’s training and assessment camp. Dot gives this as just one example of the XP plc sponsorship transforming their training compared with previous years, “We had gone to Nottingham for a training camp, but we were stuck inside on the rowing machines because it was snowing horizontally, so because there was money, there was a quick change of plan and we all got sent to Spain instead. I just remember being absolutely astonished!”
Ten of those in the middle group went to Piediluco at the end of January, where a pairs matrix identified Cath Bishop as the top strokesider (with Lisa Eyre and Helen Rain second equal) and Sue Walker as the top bowsider (with Kate Templeton second).
First closed assessment (19 February 1995)
Back in Peterborough one again, Trisha Corless and Phoebe White were the fastest scullers, although Guin Batten was absent through illness and Tish Reid didn’t finish the race because of a back problem.
Kate Pollitt and 1993 international Dot Blackie won the pairs by just two seconds from the lightweight multi-medallists Jane Hall and Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless; the fact that these top lightweights were continuing to trial in a sweep pair rather than a double scull being indicative of their lack of focus on the new Olympic boat.
Various crews competed at the FISA Team Cup in Seville, in which they came second behind the home team.
Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (11 March 1995)
The GB squad crew won this convincingly, lowering the record that several of them had set the previous year when racing as Thames RC by a monster 22 seconds. While it was hardly surprising – and actually both appropriate and necessary – that they were a lot faster than all of their domestic opposition, it was extremely encouraging that they not only beat but somewhat to their surprise actually overtook the German squad eight (containing five of their 1994 world champion crew) which started directly in front of them. That said, the Germans were somewhat hindered by their cox not having the specialist knowledge required to steer a good line over the Tideway course.
Geoffrey Page described their row as “superb” in The Daily Telegraph, adding that it was “probably the best ever by a British women’s eight”, while Hugh Matheson reported in The Guardian that, compared with the Germans, “The British eight looked far the stronger and more rhythmic,” adding, “The extra ingredient must, in the large part, be Mason’s coaching.” Matheson went on, “Bill Mason formed the crew by sticking faithfully to the results of his pairs trials, with the injured Cath Bishop replaced by Guin Batten,” but also he noted that the squad was small. With the lightweights Jane and Wilma in the bows, the crew that raced therefore only contained five of the people who would eventually be in the eight that year.
Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association were third, fully stacked with current or future GB internationals: Trisha Corless, Kareen Marwick, Tonia Williams, Rowan Carroll, Tessa Morris, Phoebe White, Lucy Hart, and Mary Stevens.
Extra trial (25 March 1995)
This was run in Nottingham to identify who should go to final trials as absences due to illness and bad weather had meant that the results of the long-distance trials so far had not produced all of the information required to make decisions. The trial therefore only involved certain athletes.
Scullers’ Head (8 April 1995)
Guin Batten was the fastest woman, but she finished just three seconds ahead of lightweight and Sue Appelboom, who had been the GB lightweight sculler in 1991 and therefore did her chances of being selected again no harm. Guin admitted to Mike Rosewell of Regatta magazine, who described her as “looking somewhat ponderous”, that “I’m a shorter distance person”. The UK-based 1992 US Olympic sculler Anne Marden was third, and Miriam Batten fourth, seven seconds behind her sister, and winning the Senior 2 event (demonstrating merely how little she’d competed in sculling events at domestic regattas).
Final trials (14-21 April 1995)
These took place in Hazewinkel in an integrated regatta format that incorporated the men’s final trials too.
Miriam won the final of the singles trials by two seconds from Guin who had led for the first half of the race. Former international Fiona Freckleton (a teacher who wasn’t actually trying to get into the squad but liked doing some racing with her friends during the school holidays) was third, with Tish Reid fourth, Annamarie Stapleton fifth and Rowan Carroll sixth. Guin wrote later, “The race was an epic. I led from the start. Miriam pulled back to within one second by half way. We were rowing stroke for stroke. With three minutes to go, I should have made my move. By two minutes to go, Miriam started to drive for home, the water started to get rougher and I let my stroke rate slip. Miriam went through me like a knife through butter. I started to respond by taking the rate up but it was not enough and too late. Emotionally, I lost the race because wouldn’t kick her when she was down.”
There was also pairs racing. Following these small boats trials, a four of Dot Blackie/Kate Pollitt/Jo Turvey/Cath Bishop beat Miriam Batten/Annamarie Stapleton/Jane Hall/Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless.
With Jane and Wilma in the openweight racing, Jo Nitch/Malindi Myers were the fastest pair in the lightweight event by nine seconds, and then took part in further seat racing to form a four.
Sue Appelboom won the lightweight single sculls by five seconds over Trisha Corless and Phoebe White. Nicky Dale was fourth and Tonia Williams fifth. Sue wanted to single, so the rest did further racing in doubles, which identified the fastest combination at that point as Trisha and Tonia. With this sorted out, there was further seat racing for the lightweight four in Hazewinkel and then back in Nottingham with a larger group.
The state of the squad
At the end of the winter, there were 12 women (six pairs) in the openweight squad plus Guin in her single. The pairs, in no particular order, were:
Annamarie Stapleton and Miriam Batten
Cath Bishop and Jo Turvey
Dot Blackie and Kate Pollitt
Kareen Marwick and Philippa Cross
Ali Gill and Sue Walker
Jane Hall and Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless (lightweights)
There was also a ‘development’ four of Helen Raine, Gillian Lindsay (even though she had rowed at the 1992 Olympics), Kate Templeton and Lisa Eyre.
What was the lightweight Olympic strategy?
To recap, there would be four lightweight events at the World Championships: two sweep (four and pair) and two sculling (double and single), but only the double was an Olympic category for which the 1995 Worlds were the qualifier.
Tonia Williams reflects, “The addition of lightweight events into the Olympic programme seemed to turn GB’s successful lightweight programmes – men’s a well as women’s – on their heads, with the strategies that had delivered medals being upended in favour of new and (as it turned out) less successful regimes. At least the lightweight women seemed to avoid the plague of rib stress fractures that their male counterparts got from following the openweights’ programme, but there was definitely a sense that the extra lightweight athlete berths drove administrative activity more than raising the quality of lightweight sculling that season.”
Looking back on it now, it’s fair to wonder whether the long-term strategy had been fully though out for Jane and Wilma who both lived in London and were training together, coached by Bill Mason. They were arguably GB’s top two athletes who still wanted to race lightweight, and the only lightweight boat in the Olympic programme was a double. So why were they pairing all the time? And was it really best for them that they were part of the openweight eight’s group (racing in it at the Women’s Head and in fours at final trials with other pairs from the eight’s squad) rather than training alongside the other lightweights in singles and doubles if the lightweight double in 1996 was their ultimate goal?
Wilma’s view is that they were never a long-term part of the eight’s squad and were only there because they were still being coached by Bill Mason, who had been their coach in previous years. As explained earlier, as skilled sweep rowers, they were also useful to him in bringing his group on, and as spares – it being rule of thumb that you need at least 12 people to run an eight – although she emphasises that this is only her supposition. They were also better sweep rowers than scullers and so she believed that Bill, “Was keen we did the pair rather than the double in 1995 because we had a better medal chance in that”. While this was undoubtedly true, it rather misses the point that if they were going to try and be the lightweight double at the 1996 Olympic Games they needed to build up experience at racing in sculling boats, and it seems odd to prioritise winning yet another lightweight sweep medal (Wilma already had four and Jane two) ahead of seizing the main opportunity to qualify the lightweight double for the Games.
But Wilma, at least, was still entertaining the idea of rowing in the eight. “I do remember at one point remember trying to convince Bill to trial me in the bow seat of the eight because I felt I had a chance to win that,” she says. “But his argument was that the eight was made up of pairs not individuals, and that bow pair of the eight as a unit were stronger than we were. I could totally see that, but it was a bit annoying, and although Bill still looked after us, his focus was definitely on the eight.”
Lightweight Co-ordinator Tony Reynolds is clearer that the reason they did the pair, rather than the double, that year because there were many much better single scullers than them. But he adds that there was an issue with doubles round that time (which went on for several years), which was that there were fast single scullers but no one could ever work out which would be a fast double. Jane and Wilma didn’t join in with the doubles combinations trials that year, so it was never established whether their considerable experience of rowing sweep together would have made up for them not being the fastest single scullers.
Early season regattas
Cologne (5-7 May 1995)
Bill Mason was interviewed at the regatta about how the women’s squad was going by he broadsheet rowing journalist Chris Dodd, who subsequently quoted him in Regatta, as saying, in a direct and appropriate reversal of the 1993 and 1994 strategy of focusing the severely limited resources on improving the standard of the best athletes, “We can’t keep focusing on good athletes… we can’t keep those people together to appear as gods to others…. I have deliberately split them up – Miriam and Jo Turvey, and the lightweight four – to push others up.” While this was applied to the pairs – Miriam raced with Annamarie – the duo then came second in the fours on the Sunday with Wilma and Jane, so that was the three lightweights from 1993 and 1994 back together again.
Annamarie remembers that one of the reason why they started the season racing in smaller boats was that they were all having to adjust their existing rowing styles so that they rowed in the same way, and that it was easier to make these changes in pairs and fours whereas, “It’s really hard to get people to feel in an eight.”
Miriam and Annamarie’s pair (which Miriam now describes as “really racy”) won on the Saturday, the only day they did that boat.
Following the opposite Saturday/Sunday pattern, Dot Blackie, Cath Bishop, Jo Turvey and Kate Pollitt were second in the coxless fours on the Saturday, and then third (Jo and Cath) and sixth (Kate and Dot) in the pairs on the Sunday.
Kareen Marwick and Philippa Cross also raced in the coxless pairs both days but didn’t qualify for either final although they beat Jane and Wilma in the heat on the Saturday. Ali Gill and Sue Walker stayed at home.
Guin was second both days in the single sculls. On the Saturday she finished behind Irene Eys of the Netherlands, who went on to get the bronze medal in the quad at the 1995 World Championships, but set a new British 2k record of 7.32.51.
Essen (19-21 May 1995)
Chris Dodd further reported in his article in Regatta that, “Before Cologne, Mason’s plan was to form an eight after Hazewinkel Regatta [2-4 June] and try it out in Paris [16-18 June], but after Cologne he was toying with racing it [and therefore forming it] sooner at Essen, such was the keenness amongst the squad to get on with it.” Apparently unaware that the eight had to be the top boat, Dodd also wrote that Mason might consider racing his top pair as a pair at the World Championships to qualify that boat too, although this raised the question of whether the eight could qualify without them, or whether doubling up was practical.
Trisha Corless raced a lightweight double with Lucy Hart, as shown in this photo by Peter Spurrier, as did Tonia Williams and Phoebe White, all representing Notts County RA.
European Union Rowing Championships, Hazewinkel (2-4 June 1995)
This new event had patchy entries, and the main GB women’s team was wise not to go, but it did provide good single sculls racing because it was part of the World Cup series.
Guin Batten made her first major international ‘A’ final, and finished sixth in a stacked field. Fiona Freckleton qualified for the B final but didn’t race it due to illness, and newcomer Elise Laverick was second in the under-23 event both days.
Henley Women’s Regatta (16-18 June 1995)
The eight won the Elite event in fine style, rowing over in a time just a second slower than the course record in their Saturday semi-final after Bedford RC scratched, and then beating University College, Dublin in the final, lowering the record by four seconds in what Mike Rosewell described as “not over-favourable conditions” in The Times. Phil Halliday warned against reading too much into this, though, quite reasonably writing that “Judgement should be reserved until they meet stiffer opposition.”
The crew no longer contained the lightweights Jane and Wilma who had been replaced by Sue Walker and Ali Hall.
Jane and Wilma won the lightweight pairs in a time more than 20 seconds faster than the openweight under-23 crew which won the open pairs event.
Sue Appelboom won the lightweight single sculls for the sixth year in a row, and was presented with a special medal to commemorate this outstanding achievement. Equally impressive was the fact that she recorded the fastest singles time of the regatta, although Guin Batten didn’t compete.
The two GB lightweight coxless fours both won too: Juliet Machan, Rachel Woolf, Robyn Morris and Jo Nitsch taking the openweight event in a time 12 seconds faster than the one in which Malindi Myers, Anna Mitchell, Anna Barclay and Nicky Best won the lightweight final. The top crew beat the Under-23 four in the semi-final and then the GB development crew in the final.
Paris Regatta (17-18 June 1995)
Clashing with Henley Women’s, only a small number of the GB lightweight scullers raced here: Lucy Hart and Naomi Ashcroft did singles, while Trisha and Tonia, the under-23s Mary Stevens and Sarah Watts did doubles. No one medalled; Naomi finished sixth on the Saturday and fifth on the Sunday.
Holland Beker, Amsterdam (23-25 June 1995)
The GB eight beat the Dutch by 2.29 seconds, and also raced in fours.
Some British pairs and doubles also took part, which may have included lightweights racing at openweight but with no crew names in the results and no one apparently remembering what they did, it’s hard to figure out who was in what. None of them won, with most events being taken by the Dutch squad with the US squad also featuring.
Henley Royal Regatta (28 June-2 July 1995)
Several aspiring British scullers competed in the third running of the Women’s Single Sculls event at Henley, for which there were no qualifiers.
Guin Batten and Tish Reid both reached the semi-finals, losing to Maria Brandin of Sweden (the eventual winner) and Olympic bronze medallist Silken Laumann of Canada respectively. Tish had beaten Sarah Springman in the quarter-final, after the latter had sculled over in the first round, while Guin scored an easily verdict in her first round win over Rowan Carroll before being pushed to just half a length by JV Harkins in the semi.
In an article by Mike Rosewell in The Times, Guin’s coach Rosie Mayglothling was quoted as saying, “Mentally she is very together this year and that’s very important for a single sculler.”
Lucerne Regatta (7-9 July 1995)
The eight won their heat, and rowed so well that Geoffrey Page wrote in Rowing magazine that they, “Looked set for a medal.” When it came to the final, though, they finished fifth after holding that position throughout the race, and although they were only half a length behind the second-placed Romanians, the event was won by the Dutch whom GB had beaten in Amsterdam. Dan Topolski wrote that they, “Lost pace in the middle of their final and were squeezed out of the medals in a blanket finish behind the fast-finishing Dutch.” Chris Dodd described their result as “disappointing” in The Guardian,
Guin came eighth in the single sculls, after what Mike Rosewell described in The Times, as “an exceptionally tough semi-final”, placing her fourth overall in the FISA World Cup, a truly impressive result which Geoffrey Page only saw fit to describe as “creditable” in The Daily Telegraph. This put her fourth overall in what turned out to be the last running of the FISA World Cup for scullers. Tish Reid was unplaced after not qualifying for either the A or B final.
Jane Hall and Alison Brownless took silver in lightweight coxless pairs behind Germany I but ahead of Germany II, while the two lightweight coxless fours of Robyn Morris, Juliet Machan, Rachel Woolf and Jo Nitsch, and Anna Mitchell, Nicky Best, Anna Barclay and Malindi Myers won silver and bronze in the straight final of their event.
Kareen Marwick and Philippa Cross came eighth in the pairs, and the four of Helen Raine, Kate Templeton, Gillian Lindsay and Lisa Eyre was unplaced.
Sue Appelboom was 11th in the lightweight single sculls in which Phoebe White was unplaced, as were Trisha Corless and Tonia Williams in the lightweight double.
National Championships (14-16 July 1995)
Neither the openweight nor lightweight main squad crews entered Nat Champs, but Jo Turvey was ‘allowed out’ to secure bronze medals in the single sculls behind Tish Reid and Rowan Carroll, and in the quads, while lightweight Trisha Corless won open doubles and quads with Tonia Williams, teaming up in the latter with Rowan and Lucy Hart.
Tonia Williams remembers, “Our crew was definitely a double of two single scullers. It didn’t gel, it was always hard work and it wasn’t for want of trying. And we’d failed miserably at Lucerne, so I said. ‘Look, I’m not contributing to this, my heart’s not in it, if other crews can potentially go as fast as we are, let someone else go and try and qualify, so after Nat Champs, I took myself off for a break.”
Following another trial just before the end of July, it was decided that Trisha and Nicky Dale (who had won the lightweight doubles at Nat Champs with Francesca Toye) would compete in the lightweight double at the World Championships, giving them less than a month (and no international racing opportunities) to get together to try and qualify a boat for the Olympics, a quite astonishing state of affairs to have arrived at.
B: Sue Walker (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
2: Ali Gill (Upper Thames RC)
3: Dot Blackie (Thames RC)
4: Cath Bishop (Marlow RC)
5: Jo Turvey (Tideway Scullers’ School)
6: Kate Pollitt (Thames RC)
7: Annamarie Stapleton (Thames RC)
S: Miriam Batten (Thames RC)
Cox: Suzie Ellis (Thames RC)
Coach: Bill Mason
B: Gillian Lindsay (Clydesdale RC)
2: Helen Raine (Marlow RC)
3: Kate Templeton (Thames RC)
S: Lisa Eyre (Royal Chester RC)
Coach: Ron Needs
B: Kareen Marwick (Nottinghamshire County RA)
S: Philippa Cross (Molesey BC)
Coach: AB Bennett
Guin Batten (Thames RC)
Coaches: Miles Forbes-Thomas and Rosie Mayglothling
Lightweight coxless four
B: Robyn Morris (Kingston RC)
2: Rachel Woolf (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
3: Juliet Machan (Grosvenor RC)
S: Jo Nitsch (Bedford RC)
Coach: James McLean
Lightweight double scull
B: Nicky Dale (Tideway Scullers’ School)
S: Trisha Corless (Nottinghamshire County RA)
Lightweight coxless pair
B: Alison Brownless (Thames RC)
S: Jane Hall (Kingston RC)
Coach: Bill Mason
Sue Appelboom (Mortlake Anglian and Alpha BC)
Coach: Tony James
Final training camp (3-14 August 1995)
This took place in the beautiful surroundings of Aiguebelette in glorious weather which everyone loved but turned out to be no preparation at all for the meteorological challenges of the World Championships.
Bill Mason arranged for an Imperial College men’s coxless four to go on the camp too to act as a ‘pace boat’. He’d done a similar thing in 1993 when he’d got a men’s pair to be sparring partners for his lightweight women’s four.
Hugh Matheson wrote in The Guardian, “Miriam Batten… was impressed by the work done at the training camp but said, ‘As all 12 of the Tampere entries are new crews it is impossible to guess the outcome.'” He predicted that they would qualify for Atlanta in the top six at the World Championships.
At the Championships
Finland was very wet and windy. Dot Blackie remembers, “It was a shocker! Afterwards, one of the team managers said he’d visited the course beforehand but he’d only seen it flat once and that was when it was frozen. At one point it was raining so hard that we walked through the streets in Tampere with the water up to mid-calf level because it was so flooded, and I know Gary Herbert steered the men’s eight with his arm in the water because the rudder wasn’t big enough to keep the boat in a straight line. But it was dreadful for everyone, so from that point of view it wasn’t unfair.”
Lightweight coxless pair (2nd out of 5)
If FISA’s decision to add this event to the World Championships programme was the result of perceived demand, their market research had got it badly wrong, or perhaps failed to take account of the impact of the lightweight doubles becoming an Olympic class. The field of a mere five crews was the smallest in any women’s lightweight event at a World Championships since the category had been introduced as test events in 1984 and fully in 1985.
To add to the challenge of having only one opportunity to get everything right in their straight final, Jane and Wilma also had to change their gearing during their warm up in response to the variable wind conditions on the course.
Coming into the final stages of the race, they were in third place but their sprint for the line took them past the Danes to secure the silver medal.
This was Wilma fifth successive World Championships medal, extending her tenure as Britain’s most successful oarswoman, a title she’d gained with Annamarie Stapleton the previous year, but now held on her own, having gone one better. It was also Jane’s third consecutive medal.
Jane and Wilma subsequently won the Team Event Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year Award.
Lightweight coxless four (2nd out of 5)
Like the lightweight pair, the new lightweight four were also lying in third place with 250m to go in their straight final, but as Geoffrey Page described it in The Daily Telegraph, they, “Produced a powerful finishing burst, missing the gold medal by only a third of a length,” or 1.26 seconds. after overtaking Germany. Only three boats appear on the results as Australia were ‘excluded’ and Denmark didn’t finish.
Lightweight single scull (4th out of 14)
Sue led from the start to the finish of her five-boat first round to qualify directly for the semi-final where, as Mike Rosewell put it in Regatta magazine she showed, “An ability not seen before to push up the rate, an attribute which got her through the semi-final blanket finish.”
Sue recalls, “I had an incredible semi-final because I made up something like eight seconds in the last 500m. But because I’d had to go ballistic in the last bit I was pretty dead on the finish line so I didn’t look at the scoreboard to see the placings. And Tony, my coach didn’t see it either, but when I came into the landing stage Brian Armstrong, the International Rowing Manager, came up and said, ‘Well done, you were second,’ so I thought, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ and went to put my boat away and it was only when I looked at the results later that I realised I was down as third. So at that point, if he thought I was second, he should have gone to get the result checked, but he didn’t. I always felt that lightweight women were bottom of the pecking order.”
This wonderful photo by Peter Spurrier shows Sue racing in the semi.
Because her semi-final result was recorded as third rather than second, and the chevron pattern means that centre lanes (3 and 4) in the final are allocated to the semi-final winners, lanes 2 and 5 to the boats that were second in the semis, and the outside lanes (1 and 6) to those who were third, she would be drawn into one of the outside lanes. This shouldn’t have been a particular disadvantage except that a TV catamaran was using the lane adjacent to one of the outside lanes. This was the lane Sue drew, and when the race started, the launch positioned itself directly across from the leading sculler with the result that it was washing Sue because she was right next to it, a little further back. Because of the shape of the wash, scullers further away from it weren’t affected. Literally wallowing in its wake, she reached the first two timing points in fifth place after which she turned round and shouted at it and it finally dropped back. She was then able to pull up into fourth by 500m to go. She then produced the fastest last 500m of any of the six scullers, but couldn’t quite catch the Belgian in third place, finishing 3.47 seconds off the medals.
Afterwards, David Tanner lodged an official complaint (having raised the issue the day before when it had been too close to the men’s eight in their semi-final), incensed that the race umpire foreseen this or at least noticed what was happening. FISA subsequently placed an umpire in the TV boat for future races, and she remembers being told that the same wouldn’t happen for GB stars’ Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent’s race but the result of Sue’s final was upheld despite this clearly implied admission of unfairness.
Looking back at that day now, Sue says, “I think I would have been capable of getting bronze. Tony, my coach, always says he thinks I would have got the silver; I’m not sure about that, but I do think I would have got bronze.”
Coxless four (5th out of 7)
The four came third in their three-boat heat from which only the winner qualified direct to the final. This put them in a five-boat semi-final from which a further fourth would qualify. They finished fourth in this, and then came fifth in the final.
While the four wasn’t an Olympic-class boat, place-wise, this was the openweight team’s best result.
Eight (7th out of 12)
Boats qualifying for Olympic Games: 6
(2 further places available at the 1996 Qualification Regatta)
Just before racing started, Annamarie was quoted in The Observer as saying, “We’re very focused and [Bill’s] helped us to develop a very positive approach which we’re puttig to good use here in the rough water we’re having to face. His favourite saying for us is, ‘We can ony make ourselves very hard to beat.'”
The eight finished fourth in their unusually closely-fought first round heat of six crews from which only one qualified directly for the final. Less than five seconds separated the first five crews.
To qualify for the final – and therefore secure their place at the Olympic Games a year in advance – they needed to finish second in the repechage. In another incredibly tight race, they were third at the 500m and halfway points, and the produced the fastest third 500m to go through 1,500m mark in second. From there, though, the British crew paid for their push as the Dutch (who had made three crew changes since GB had beaten them) once again pulled out their fast finish to row past them in the last 200m, as did the Australians who had been over three seconds behind with 500m to go. They weren’t quite hard enough to beat, and crossed the line fourth, only 1.54 seconds off qualifying. Both the Australian’s and the British crew’s times were faster than the Canadians who qualified in second place in the other repechage, although arguably they were less ‘pushed’ as the finished over three seconds up on the next crew in that race.
It was little consolation that they then won the small final by over two seconds, leading all the way.
Miriam Batten remembers, “That was really disappointing because I thought we were going so well. We just seemed to be outgunned by the other eights. We’d done loads of really good preparation and just didn’t seem to be able to be powerful. It was a big entry, and really exciting and close, but absolutely gutting because we’re just the wrong side of it. And actually it was diddly squat; if we’d been on the other side, history may well have been very different.”
Single scull (8th out of 20)
Scullers qualifying for Olympic Games: 11
Guin finished third out of five in her first round heat from which only one qualified directly for the semi-final; Trine Hansen of Denmark won, and the rest of the field spread out behind her in poor conditions.
The weather was much better for her repechage of four from which two would qualify. Guin held second place for the first half of the course and then sculled past the Romanian to win and secure her place in the final 12. Chris Dodd commented in The Guardian that, “She has improved in every race this year after a training regime that added quality of technique to last year’ mileage.”
She was then unlucky to draw a fearsome lineup in her semi. This included Kathrin Boron of Germany (the reigning double sculls Olympic champion), Trine Hansen of Denmark (the reigning world champion), and Aneliese Braedel of Belgium (1992 Olympic silver medallist and 1994 world bronze medallist) who took the first three places and the routes to the main final. Guin was fourth, putting her in the B final. All she had to do now was not come last and she would qualify for the Olympics.
As you can see in the video below, she achieved this with a wide margin, holding second place throughout the race to give her a world ranking of eighth, and the only GB women’s boat* to qualify for the Olympics from the Championships.
Guin remembers, “It was really, really rough, in fact, I remember going out for the final and it being so rough that I didn’t bother warming up because the warm up was at 90 degrees to the course, so there was no point because your boat would fill up with water.” After Tampere, FISA reviewed its choice of venues for World Championships, although issues continue to the present day.
* For qualifiers at the World Championships it’s the boat that qualifies not the athlete(s) i.e. this gave Britain the right to have a single sculler in the Olympics but it was up to the national federation who was in the boat in a year’s time.
Coxless pair (10th out of 14)
Boats qualifying for Olympic Games: 9
(5 further places available at the 1996 Qualification Regatta)
Kareen and Philippa finished fourth in their five-boat first round heat, from which three went straight to the semi-finals.
In their repechage they led for to half way and then slipped back behind South Africa but stayed well-clear of an extremely tight battle amongst the three crews behind them for the crucial third qualifying spot.
After coming fifth in their semi-final, the pair were out of the A final and the possibility of medaling, but third place or better in the B final would qualify the boat for the Olympics. Their race, which you can watch in the video below, was rowed in pouring rain although on relatively flat water. At half way they were in fourth place, and by 500m to go had slipped back to fifth after South Africa had rowed through them. Then, extraordinarily, at around 200m from the line China, who were in second place, caught such a boat stopping crab that they almost capsized, throwing away their qualification. The remainder of the field went past them, which meant that the British pair finished fourth, 5.54 seconds off third place and Olympic qualification.
Lightweight double scull (19th out of 26)
Boats qualifying for Olympic Games: 12
(4 further places available at the 1996 Qualification Regatta)
The huge entry that the lightweight doubles received because it was now an Olympic event, and one that was attractive to countries with smaller rowing programmes and also programmes that didn’t ‘talent identify’ larger rowers. 26 was, in fact, the largest entry in a women’s event that there had ever been at a major international Championships.
Trisha and Nicky’s campaign didn’t start particularly well when they came last in their four-boat heat from which one crew progressed direct to the semi-finals. This put them in the repechage, on which everything hinged as qualifying for the semis meant qualifying for the Olympics. They needed to come second out of four.
At half way in the race, the Romanians were just leading from the Italians with the GB double nearly seven seconds further back. But the Romanians had gone out too hard and started paying for it. By 1,500m gone, the Italians had taken the lead and the Romanians time for the third quarter of the race that was slower than Trisha and Nicky’s. In the final 500m, the British crew produced an impressive surge, catching the rapidly-fading Romanians with every stroke, and clocking up the fastest time for that 500m. But it wasn’t quite enough and they crossed the line in third place, a truly agonising 0.33 seconds off Olympic qualification.
Based on their repechage time, they were placed into the D final which they lead from start to finish.
In an interview for the Sunday Times, Bill Mason managed to draw a positive out of the eight not qualifying, saying, “If we had got an Olympic place out of the world championship, people might have relaxed.” In the same piece, Jo Turvey emphasised that she, “Felt proud they had rowed their best race of the year at the Championships,” which they did in the B-final when they had almost nothing to lose. Also on the plus side, Dot Blackie adds that having three sweep boats and a scull was a massive step on from 1994 when there had just been three people in the squad.
These may have been genuine feelings or they could have been examples of positive spin for public consumption. Some members of the crew were less happy. Dot Blackie adds, for instance, “It was just horrible because all the men’s boats had qualified, and then there was the whole thing about the four doing better than is place-wise, even though theirs was a different type of event because it wasn’t an Olympic qualifier. And we were just shattered.”
Annamarie remembers talking to David Tanner afterwards, who told her that she and Miriam, but particularly her (as the one multiple medallist and former world Champion in the crew) needed to ‘lift’ the crew, show leadership and get them going. “But I felt completely powerless. I’d never felt powerless before in all the other crews that I’d done, I felt I had something to contribute, but this time I really didn’t feel I knew what to do. I don’t think we had full confidence in the eight; there was a sort of lack of cohesion, technically, mentally, everything else and I think everybody was expecting everybody else to try and do something, including me.”
The eight was, however, always a two-year project, and as Ali Gill points out, it takes years of training at that level to achieve the physiological benefits required, so it was always going to be a hard ask to ramp a new group up to Olympic qualification standard in a single year. And they did have a second chance: a specific qualification regatta in June 1996.
Larry Tracey summed up the way ahead after meeting with International Rowing Manager Brian Armstrong and Bill Mason before the start of the next season, writing. “Whilst the results from Tampere were disappointing, the eight has shown sufficient previous form to make all three of us believe that they are serious medal contenders in Atlanta subject to an improvement in their race preparedness and mental toughness under pressure.”
As for the lightweight double, was there a missed opportunity, at least partly caused by Bill being responsible but this not being his priority and yet also managing Jane and Wilma while the lightweight’s were Tony’s priority yet he didn’t have responsibility for two of the best lightweight athletes?
Should Jane and Wilma in the lightweight double from the beginning of the year (rather than ‘used’ in the openweight eight) to try and improve them as a sculling crew? Obviously it’s impossible to say whether they would have been able to qualify the boat for the Olympics, or even proved to be the fastest GB double and been given the chance to do so. But it certainly would have created the type of competition that pushes up standards amongst other contenders, and it does seem that – despite GB women’s lightweights having won ten medals at World Championships to the openweights’ two – that this lightweight slot was not given the attention that strategic analysis would suggest it deserved for whatever reason, perhaps because of the funding-driven focus on the openweight eight. It would also seem almost certain that Nicky and Trisha might have been able to be a foot faster if they had been together for more than a month and had the opportunity to try their pairing in race conditions.
Equally, Jane and Wilma didn’t join in with the doubles combinations trials that year, so it was never established whether their experience of rowing sweep together would have made up for them not being the fastest single scullers. Looking back on it now Wilma says that in the long run it was probably a mistake that they didn’t commit to Tony’s prioritisation of sculling in 1995.
World Junior Championships
This took place in Poznan in Poland from 1-5 August. Sadly, 16 members of the British team as well as six officials were badly affected by an outbreak of food poisoning originating in the halls of residence where they were staying, and which also impacted at least 11 other countries.
There were no scullers, and the pair and four doubled up into an eight which didn’t have many training outings.
Eight (7th out of 9)
B: Laura Fitzgibbon (George Watson’s College)
2: Charlotte Mulcahy (Kingston Grammar School)
3: Nicola Ledger (Kingston RC)*
4: Anne-Marie Pallister (St Leonard’s School)
5: Josephine Burns (Cambois RC)
6: Katrina Hastings (George Watson’s College)
7: Isabel Walker (George Watson’s College)
S: Victoria Fangen (Kingston RC)
Cox: Kerry Reed (Molesey BC)
Coach: Ian South (Kingston RC)
Coxless four (3rd out of 8)
B: Isabel Walker (George Watson’s College)
2: Katrina Hastings (George Watson’s College)
3: Joanna Burns (Cambois ARC)
S: Victoria Fangen (Kingston RC)
Coach: Louise Kingsley (Kingston Grammar School)
Coxless pair (6th out of 9)
B: Nicola Ledger (Kingston RC)*
S: Anne-Marie Pallister (St Leonard’s School)
Coach: John Spencer (Eton Excelsior RC)
* Denotes a previous participation in the World Junior Championships.
Nations Cup (22-23 June 1995)
The under-23 regatta took place in Groningen in the Netherlands from 21-23 July.
Coxless four (3rd out of 8)
B: Liz Walsh (University of London Women’s BC)
2: Tessa Morris (Nottinghamshire County RA)
3: Claire Hodgson (University of London Women’s BC)*
S: Caroline Dring (University of London Women’s BC)**
Coach: David Martin (University of London Women’s BC)
This young crew were extremely experienced; all four of the crew were former junior internationals, Claire and Caroline had been the under-23 pair in 1994, and Caroline had also been in the under-23 double in 1992.
Mike Rosewell wrote in Regatta magazine, “Clearly smaller than their rivals but equally clearly a technically excellent crew and a credit to their coach David Martin, they were never going to threaten the hot favourite Germans. The wind went round to a head which he did not want but his crew did him justice, keeping calm in fourth place in the early stage, and building from 1,500m to take bronze and threaten silver from a clearly tiring New Zealand.”
Coxless pair (6th out of 8)
B: Nicola Robinson (University of London Women’s BC)
S: Alona Bruce (University of London Women’s BC)
Coach: David Martin (University of London Women’s BC)
Lightweight double scull (8th out of 11)
B: Mary Stevens (Nottinghamshire County RA)
S: Sarah Watts (Nottinghamshire County RA)
Coach: Cathy Partridge (Nottinghamshire County RA)
Lightweight single scull (10th out of 10)
Helen Brown (Warrington RC)
* Denotes a previous participation in the Nations Cup.
Liz Walsh and Tessa Morris had both won medals at the World Junior Championships the previous year. Mary Stevens and Sarah Watts were also former junior internationals who had stepped up to the next level.
The photo at the top of this page of the eight, with Guin Batten swimming, at their pre-World Championships training camp in Aiguebelette is from Miriam Luke’s personal collection.
© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2020.