1996 Olympic Games and World Rowing Championships

Rowing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games took place from 21-28 July on Lake Lanier, a reservoir created in the 1950s. 78 women’s crews from 30 countries totok part in this the sixth Games to include women’s rowing. Ironically, given that a quota system had been introduced since the previous Games to limit the number of competitors across all sports, this was by far the largest number of women’s crews to date: there had been 67 in Barcelona in 1992.

The total number of female competitors was only just up though – 215 compared with 211 in 1992 – because the coxless four had been replaced by the lightweight double in which there were almost twice the number of crews but therefore about the same number of athletes.

The World Championships in 1996 (which had hitherto just been for lightweight events in Olympic years) included non-Olympic openweight events for the first time, since such a thing now existed. In the women’s programme, this meant the coxless four. 42 women’s crews from 23 coutries entered in total.

These were the first Olympics to use ‘clogs’ at the start to hold boats’ bows in place; the clog disappears underwater when the race is started. This system prevented false starts and also kept boats straight.

Qualifying for the 1996 Olympic Games

The qualification scheme devised by FISA (the international governing body for rowing) involved two routes: by achieving a certain place at the 1995 World Rowing Championships, or by achieving a certain place at one of four qualification regattas to be held in the early summer of 1996 in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Countries could only compete in the regatta for their region, and not all of the events were on offer at all of the regattas. This arrangement was designed to encourage a broader spread of competing nations but it did lead to the competitors including a 16-year old in the Argentinian double scull.

Boat class Olympic places Qualified at the 1995 Worlds Places available at Qualification Regattas Places available European Qualification Regatta
8o 8 6 2 2
4x 9 7 2 2
2x 14 10 4 2
2- 14 9 5 2
1x 16 11 5 2
Lt 2x 16 12 4 2

When qualification was achieved at the World Championships, it was the boat that qualified not the crew; exactly who rowed in that boat at the Games was up to its national rowing federation. Crews who got through the qualifying regattas had to stay the same.

The only British boat which had qualified at the 1995 Worlds was the single scull. The eight, pair and lightweight double had not made the cutoff and there hadn’t been a GB quad or openweight double.

This meant that at the start of the year running up to the sixth Olympic Games to include women’s rowing events, almost everyone in the GB women’s squad was facing a succesion of challenges: first to gain selection for the boat, then for the boat to be selected by the Amateur Rowing Association as worthy or representing its country, then to qualify for the Games; and anly after achieving all of that could they focus on trying to win medals. Nevertheless, they were well aware of end goal from the beginning. When asked by the journalist Chris Dodd for an article in Regatta magazine in the spring of 1996 about what concerned her about the qualifying regatta, Miriam Batten, one of the key members of the eight, had replied, “What counts, Chris, is not getting to the Olympics. It’s winning them,” and looking back at it now, Miriam says, “We believed we could qualify, we really did.”

Coaching and squad formation

The openweight sweep group benefitted from coaching continuity (which it had frequently not had from year to year in the past) with Bill Mason remaining as Women’s Chief Coach for the second year running.

Bill issued a document at the beginning of October 1995 which invited 13 women to join the “core group” subject to their being available for full time training from early December:

Guin Batten
Miriam Batten
Cath Bishop
Dot Blackie
Philippa Cross
Lisa Eyre
Ali Gill
Kareen Marwick
Kate Pollitt
Annamarie Stapleton
Kate Templeton
Jo Turvey
Sue Walker

These were the single (Guin), eight, pair and two of the four (Kate Templeton and Lisa Eyre) from the 1995 World Championships crews; one sculler and 12 sweep rowers. It is notable that the other two members of the 1995 four (1992 Olympian Gillian Lindsay and Helen Raine) are not included. The 12 sweep rowers would compete for places in the eight and pair. Suzie Ellis, who coxed the eight in 1995, remained as the squad’s cox.

Kareen Marwick, who was a doctor and was the oldest in the group at 35, having first rowed for GB in 1983, appears to have turned down the invitation.

Water training was initially based at Henley Rowing Club with land training either in Henley/Marlow or London. Bill emphasised that it was essential they trained together, even off the water, to unite the group. It was also expected that this would enhance their mental toughness, which Larry Tracey documented that he, Bill and International Rowing Manager Brian Armstrong had, “Identified as a weakness,” the previous year.

As the single sculler, Guin also enjoyed coaching continuity, working with Miles Forbes-Thomas and training alongside Peter Haining who had been lightweight single sculls World Champion for three years running before going heavyweight in order to compete at the Olympics, and whom Miles was also coaching, a setup which worked really well for her.

The campaign to qualify a lightweight double for the Olympics finished up being a bit more disparate, involving a number of sub-groups who never came together for various reasons.

Although Bill Mason was the overall Women’s Chief Coach, the Lightweight Women had their own co-ordinator, Tony Reynolds. Tony, like the rowers, was unfunded, so they were all fitting training round their job or studies. Trisha Corless, who had been in the lightweight double or single for the previous four years remembers, “We were all told that we should train together but we had to organise it ourselves, so we were kind of ringing each other up, but some were a bit, ‘Oh I don’t want to train with you’, so it didn’t really work.”

Jane Hall and Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless, who had won multiple World medals in the lightweight four and then the pair in 1995, coached by Bill Mason, now turned their attentions to the Olympic-class lightweight double. They were eventually coached on the water by Alan ‘AB’ Bennett, using a training programme set by Bill.

During the winter, the lightweights were meant to train in Henley at weekends alongside Bill’s openweight sweep squad. One of the doubles combinations was Sue Appelboom and Nicky Dale. Sue had been the GB lightweight sculler in 1991 and 1995 but was turning to doubling despite her preference for single sculling because she too wanted to get to the Olympics. Nicky had finished up in the lightweight double with Trisha just weeks before the World Championships in 1995 after Trisha’s original partner had withdrawn. Sue recalls, “I wanted to train on the Tideway with Nicky because that’s where we were both based and because we could work there with my coach, Tony James. But eventually we got a letter saying that if we didn’t turn up in Henley at the weekends we’d be excluded from the squad, so we said, ‘Fine, but we want a decent boat.’ And when we got up there, we’d been left this incredibly heavy old wreck of a boat which we nicknamed the Belgrano!”

There was also a separate openweight double project, organised by International Rowing Manager Brian Armstrong, who had identified that event as one that GB could reasonably target (rather than the quad which needed a strength in depth that Britain, which had long been a ‘sweep’ nation in rowing terms, simply didn’t have then). Those involved had a wide range of backgrounds: Tish Reid, who had been the GB single sculler at the 1992 Olympics but had then had a back injury; Annabel Eyres who had never quite reconciled herself with her decision to stop rowing internationally after coming fifth in the double in 1992; Sarah Springman, a highly successful international triathlete who had only recently started sculling; Helen Raine; Kate Templeton once she was no longer part of Bill’s sweep group; and occasional others.

Funding

1996 was the second of two years in which a sponsorship package from Larry Tracey’s company XP (Xperts in Power) plc funded Bill and the women’s eight’s squad. This is described in more detail here. XP plc, devised an innovative way to channel more money to the group whilst alo maximising the publicity return on their investment; they invited members of the team to bring a pair of ergos to a trade fair they were attending (rather suitably, at Olympia) in September 1995, and pledged to add £1,000 to their sponsorship total each time a delegate raced one of the GB rowers. This raised an additional £38,000 for the crew, bringing the total package to £138,000.

The Women’s Eights Head of the River Race supported single sculler Guin Batten with a donation of £1,000. She had been involved with the XP plc sponsorship the previous year and kept her options open at the start of this new season about rowing in it, but once she was firmly single sculling, she no longer had access to the funding because, not only was that sponsorship purely for the eight, but Larry Tracey’s good friend Mike Spracklen was coaching the Canadian sculler Silken Laumann who was one of Guin’s main competitors and, she says, “He didn’t want to be funding me racing Silken.”

Older lady presenting cheque to athlete in GB kit

Women’s Eights Head of the River Race President Grace Wilkinson presents Guin with their sponsorship cheque. (Photo: Guin Batten’s personal collection.)

Moore Stephens, Alison Brownless’s employer, continued to sponsor her boat.

Winter training, racing and assessment

Pairs Head (7 October 1995)

Miriam and Guin Batten were the fastest women’s crew, finishing an impressive 15th overall in a double. Lightweights Jane Hall and Alison Brownless were 13 seconds behind them, winning Senior II doubles; the fact that they were eligible for this lower-level category indicated how little regatta racing experience these multiple international sweep medallists and former World Champions had in sculling.

b/w photo of women's double

Miriam (at bow) and Guin Batten winning the women’s doubles at the Pairs Head in 1995. (Photo: Miriam Luke’s personal collection.)

Dot Blackie and Kate Pollitt were the fastest women’s pair.

Head of the River Fours (4 November 1995)

Guin and Miriam Batten, Ali Gill and the London-born Canadian Olympic Champion Kirsten Barnes (a member of Thames RC) were the fastest women’s crew in a quad, despite going off late after having to make emergency repairs to their boat which was holed by driftwood on the way to the start, and then being impeded twice during the race. Guin, who is an excellent cartoonist, explained what happened (Mishap 1 involved someone’s alarm clock failing to go off):

cartoons of rowing boat being damaged

© Guin Batten.

women's quad in wooden boat

Photo: Miriam Luke’s personal collection.

First open assessment (19 November 1995)

This was in single sculls and like all winter long-distance trials now, took place at Peterborough. The conditions were rough which wasn’t the case for all long-distance trials there, only most of them. 1995 team members didn’t have to enter, though Guin Batten did and won convincingly, despite having also raced in the men’s trial the day before.

Openweights

  1. Guin Batten: 21.39
  2. Alison Mowbray: 22.34
  3. Gillian Lindsay: 22.37
  4. Helen Raine: 22.42
  5. Sarah Springman: 22.53

Guin admits that she might have cut a corner at one point in the race which partly accounted for her winning by quite such a large margin. “I had a little mirror on my hat from when I used to train on the Grand Union Canal and had to navigate narrow bridges there, I used that to steer in over the fields when everyone stayed against the stream,” she says. Nevertheless, no one was realistically going to take her spot in the single scull. She wrote later, “The British International Rowing Office have roughly pre-selected me. Anyone who wishes to challenge for my place needs to come to Europe in the summer and beat me. But I still need to demonstrate my competitiveness to the British Olympic Association to gain selection.”

Lightweights

  1. Claire McDougall-Smith: 22.01
  2. Robyn Morris: 22.50
  3. Tegwen Rooks: 22.53
  4. Naomi Ashcroft: 23.03
  5. Juliet Machan: 23.08

Top group ergo test (November 1995)

Bill set individual targets for the Novemebr ergo and strength (five different weight lifts), and he and Larry devised a scheme which awarded bonuses of £100 for each to athletes who exceeded their targets.

Kate Templeton did the the fastest erg (17.47), followed by Ali Gill (17.49).

Second open assessment (17 December 1995)

Racing was in pairs as well as singles and as the 1995 squad again didn’t have to attend, none of the fastest 10 boats contained people who rowed in the senior team in 1996.

Third open assessment (21 January 1996)

Only 30 boats took part. Kate Mackenzie and Ali Gill won, followed by the 1995 under-23s,  Claire Hodgson and Caroline Dring, and Liz Walsh and Nicola Robinson, who tied.

Libby Henshilwood, who had rowed in a GB coxless four at early-season regattas in 1994, was the fastest openweight sculler and Sarah Watts, another member of the 1995 under-23 team, was the fastest lightweight.

Small boats trials (3-4 February 1996)

A doubles matrix held in Nottingham produced these results for the openweight double sculls contenders:

  1. Tish Reid: 28.05
  2. Alison Mowbray: 28.20
  3. Annabel Eyres: 28.24
  4. Helen Raine: 28.26
  5. Sarah Springman: 28.31

Tish remembers that there were further races in at the Docks, and the final conclusion was that she and Annabel were the fastest combination. They had started training together in the summer of 1995. Looking back at it now, she says, “It would have been interesting to have tried doubling with Sarah Springman because she’s a phenomenally experienced athlete, but Annabel and I moved the boat well together and Sarah was understandably rough so we figured that Annabel and I were the most likely to be able to get this working in the period we had until Atlanta.”

The journalist Mike Rosewell wrote later in Regatta magazine, “Throughout the winter months, Reid and Eyres were required to attend trials with a number of other candidates. Some of the candidates did not appear; some of the trials did not take place, and it was not until March 9 that the duo finally got the go-ahead to go for the Olympic slot.” They were allowed to train out of Leander Club in Henley (which didn’t actually admit women members at the time) with Tish’s coach Eddie Wells.

An undated set of trials in singles sculls for the lightweight doubles group produced these results:

  1. Jane Hall: 18.26
  2. Trisha Corless: 18.27
  3. Alison Brownless: 18.30
  4. Phoebe White: 18:33
  5. Nicky Dale: 18.37
  6. Robyn Morris: 18.41

It is notable that Sue Appelboom is not involved. She recalls, “I’d always said that I wanted to do the World Champs as well as the Olympics because they were 10 days apart and about half way through these trials I was told that I absolutely couldn’t do that because it was too much. I said, ‘It isn’t, I’d have 10 days, and I’d only be in my single at the Worlds because they’re later,’ but they wouldn’t allow it and in the end Tony, my coach, and I decided we didn’t really have a realistic chance of qualifying for the Olympics because we weren’t quite good enough so in the end he encouraged me just to stay in the single.” This decision seems to have taken Nicky Dale out of the equation as she now had no doubles partner.

The remaining group also did a doubles matrix of sorts at these small boats trial in Nottingham involving four of the group with Jo Nitsch and Juliet Machan apparently acting as a pace boat, producing very consistent times, but finishing third behind the other, changing combinations.

  1. Jane Hall: 16.40
  2. Alison Brownless: 17.02
  3. Tegwen Rooks: 17.03
  4. Phoebe White: 17:10

Trisha Corless didn’t take part in these because she was in hospital with appendicitis. She explains, “It had been niggling but I’d been to the doctor and she sent me away, but then I went again and she said, ‘Actually I think you need to go to hospital right now.’ My mum was in the emergency ward with me saying to the doctors, ‘Is there anything you can do, she’s got an Olympic trial tomorrow?’, and I was just lying there groaning, ‘I’m in pain, I don’t care!’ And I do actually remember Billy Mason coming to visit me – I don’t know whether it was to see whether I was making it up or not!”

The outcome of the trials was that Jane and Wilma became the lightweight double from this point on. In a piece in the May edition of Regatta magazine, Mike Rosewell wrote that, “The duo seem to have made a successful transition from rowing to sculling in their bid for  GB Olympic vest. Hall says, ‘We have always done a lot of sculling in our rowing training and it has really been a question of cleaning up our technique…. It has not been as difficult as I expected.'” He also quoted Jane as saying, “It does not cross my mind that we will not qualify. I am already thinking of a place in the Olympic final, and then looking to win,” although he added that Wilma, 11 years Jane’s senior, was more cautious, saying, “I think we can qualify if it all goes well.”

Banyoles training camp (3-25 Feb 1996)

The openweight sweep group and Guin set off for this camp earlier than had been planned because bad weather in the UK was making the Thames unrowable, but even southern Spain at that time of year wasn’t perfect and the winter sunshine alternated with snow showers.

Although Guin had established herself as the GB single sculler, Bill was still interested in having her in the eight. The issue was resolved once and for all at this camp. “I was getting really irritated with him constantly niggling at me about being in the eight,” she remembers, “And one day we were playing table football at the hostel in Banyoles between sessions, which we used to do a lot, and he was going on about it so I said, ‘Bill, if you win the next goal, I’ll go into the eight, and if I score, I’ll go into the single and we’ll never talk about this again,’ because I needed to commit to it if I was going to do it as all as the pressure was now on, and the fact that I’d done no trials and we were now late Spring and I was maybe going to have to go through a whole series of selection trials because there was a bunch of new and returning scullers who were starting to put themselves forward. And I scored the goal and stayed in the single.” The time she’d spent at boarding school honing her table football skills had paid off in a way she could never have predicted.

The long time spent living as well as training in close proximity took its toll, however, as a viral infection progressed round the group. Before it had done too much damage, though, there was a pairs matrix for four strokesiders and six bowsiders. Kate Pollitt and Ali Gill (both strokeside) were absent. Kate had gone out to the camp but hurt her back, and having sustained the same injury before, knew immediately what the problem was and returned to the UK for surgery.

The results of the pairs matrix on 3-4 April were:

Strokeside

  1. Miriam Batten
  2. Cath Bishop
  3. Philippa Cross
  4. Lisa Eyre

Bowside

  1. Jo Turvey
  2. Dot Blackie
  3. Annamarie Stapleton
  4. Kate Mackenzie
  5. Kate Templeton
  6. Sue Walker

This was folowed by seat racing for the bowsiders in fours in which:

  • Annamarie Stapleton beat Kate Mackenzie by 5.14 seconds
  • Kate Mackenzie* beat Kate Templeton by 1.17 seconds
  • Kate Templeton beat Sue Walker by 156 seconds and then 7.55 seconds in another race.

Although not one of the 11 continuing rowers in the top group named by Bill in October 1995, Kate had been subbing in occasionally as she was a member of Thames RC, as most of the group were. No conclusions seem to have been reached at this point about exactly who would be in the pair as different combinations (which included Sue Walker too) raced at the first regatta of the season in Cologne.

Annamarie was seat raced because she was only just back after six weeks out with overtraining syndrome. She explains, “I’d been the subject of constant niggling and what was frankly bullying for being an ex-lightweight, which I felt was undermining Bill’s faith in me. I ended up training so hard that I developed overtraining syndrome. I was competitive against most of the bigger athletes on the ergo and even on heavy weights when we were doing endurance work, but I wanted to prove my place so I was training at a more intense level than a lot of them, and I wasn’t recovering properly. Then my scores started to get worse, and I didn’t know why, but I just wasn’t able to train and I got really depressed. It was really, really dark and horrible.” When she did get back to rowing in the eight, after a set of seat races, Bill moved her from seven to bow. She was disappointed but says, “I think I just cushioned myself from it all by then.”

Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (16 March 1996)

women's eight No.1

GB I: Annamarie Stapleton (bow), Philippa Cross, Kate Templeton, Cath Bishop, Dot Blackie, Ali Gill, Jo Turvey, Miriam Batten (stroke) and Suzie Ellis (cox). This was largely the same crew that had raced at the Worlds in 1995 but with Kate T and Philippa instead of Sue Walker and Kate Pollitt. (Photo © John Shore.)

The GB eight won this by 16 seconds from the Dutch national crew which contained four of the rowers who had won the bronze medal at the World Championships. However, the home team started at number 1 and so they did benefit from faster stream conditions than the Dutch who went off an hour later with the new entries.

The GB crew had wanted to go off with the Dutch, to make a more even contest, and some have expressed frustrations that the organisers stuck to their rule that crews which had competed in the race last year go off first and in the order they finished the previous race, followed by new entries (the definition of a ‘crew’ being its club or clubs in the case of a composite, rather than the actual individuals). They had requested that the new Dutch entry be allowed special dispensation to take one of the slots allocated to previous entries, but this had quite reasonably been refused. It should be noted, however, that the GB crew raced as Thames/Kingston/Tideway Scullers School, which had been an accurate reflection of the crew members’ clubs in 1995, but was not this time round as there was no Kingston member in the boat in 1996 when but the crew also now contained Ali Gill from Upper Thames and Cath Bishop from Marlow. Instead of going off as a new entry (and thus being able to race the Dutch on equal terms but risking not winning overall by not having in the fastest stream), Kingston RC was asked to make Ali and Cath ‘members’ so that they could retain their No.1 starting position. The author remembers the then Captain of Kingston saying that he was “happy to help”. Upper Thames and Marlow therefore missed out on recognition for being involved in this win.

A GB lightweight development crew came third.

Nottingham seat racing (23-24 March 1996)

The lightweight sweep group did a pairs matrix from which Jo Nitsch, Robyn Morris, Malindi Myers and Vic Fangen (who was still at school but was slightly too old to be eligible to race for the GB junior team) came out as the top four. Jo and Robyn had been involved in the doubles trials, of course, but had switched to sweep once they’d been unsuccessful there. Trisha Corless couldn’t take part in this, though, as she was still recuperating from having her appendix out.

The core openweight group did trials to determine the last seat in the eight and who would be in the pair. A background to this was that Miriam Batten had swapped from strokeside to bowside. She explains, “Four of the top five ergo scores were strokeside; the only bowsider was Jo Turvey, and I think the coaches thought that if you’ve got all your big pullers on one side you’re not going to go in a straight line so they suggested one of us switch side and because I’d rowed on bowside before, it was me.” Ali Gill took over in the stroke seat.

Lisa Eyre won the place that had opened up on strokeside, and Sue Walker, who had been on bowside in 1995, lost out. Dot Blackie remembers, “That was difficult on a personal level. A lot of us felt badly for Sue but at the same time with your hard head on, we had to get the job done and focus on the qualification regatta.”

The openweight group then went back to Banyoles for another training camp.

Eight at sunset

Training in Banyoles in an old, old GB boat (last raced in 1988) with Philippa Cross at stroke, as well as Dot Blackie, Jo Turvey, Kate Templeton and Sue Walker. (Photo: Guin Batten’s personal collection.)

Scullers’ Head (13 April 1996)

Tish Reid was the fastest woman by three seconds, with lightweights Nicky Dale and Sue Appelboom second and third, a mere 0.9 seconds apart.

No one else from the GB openweight squad took part.

Ergo dash (19 April 1996)

Several of the squad did a 500m ergo dash at Thames RC deigned to set a baseline for world record attempts in the autumn:

  1. Cath Bishop: 1.29.7 (new official world record)
  2. Kate Pollitt: 1.30.1
  3. Guin Batten: 1.32.4
  4. Annamarie Stapleton: 1.34.5
  5. Miriam Batten: 1.36.1
  6. Jane Hall (lightweight): 1.36.7
  7. Alison Brownless (lightweight): 1.36.8

That Kate Pollitt was able to do this hardly more than two months after she’d had back survery was an extraordinary feat of rehabilitation.

Summer racing

Cologne regatta (3-5 May 1996)

Cologne proved to be a useful early indicator of speed with a healthy entry from top-quality crews in most events.

The Saturday final of the eights included four countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and Belarus) who had already qualified for the Olympics as well as GB and the Czechs. International Rowing Manager Brian Armstrong wrote in Regatta, “The British eight sped off the start and led at 500m where the Belarussian crew edged in front. The Dutch and Canadians were in third and fourth positions, with Germany fifth and the Czech Republic sixth. The positions stayed the same until 50 metres from the line when the Canadian and Dutch eights edged past the British eight… all crews crossing the line in a blanket finish within one second of one another. The British boat was fourth and the Germans trailed in four seconds behind.”

On the Sunday, the Belarus crew was much slower and the Brits led until the last 750m when the Dutch and Canadians once again passed them.

Miriam didn’t race because she’d fractured three ribs while doing a ‘bungee on the boat’ resistance training session, possibly not helped by her having just changed sides. She was unable to row for six weeks during which time Kate Mackenzie subbed for her.

3 women's eights racing

The eight racing in Cologne. (Photo: Dorothy Roberts’ personal collection.)

Lightweight single sculler Sue Appelboom won on both days, “sculling extremely well”, according to Brian Armstrong.

The lightweight double of Jane and Wilma finished fourth on both days, behind Sweden, Denmark and China on both occasions.

Sue Walker and Philippa Cross were fifth on the Saturday in the coxless pair, and then Sue and Gillian Lindsay got the same result on the Sunday.

Annabel Eyres and Tish Reid were disqualified in the final of the double sculls on Saturday but came fourth on the Sunday.

Sarah Springman raced in the single sculls but didn’t reach either final.

Paolo d’Aloja Memorial Regatta, Piediluco (3-5 May 1996)

Guin opted to go to Piediluco rather than Cologne and won on both days by a couple of seconds on each occasion from the French sculler. The other top scullers weren’t there though.

3 women scullers on raft

Awaiting the medal presentation. (Photo: Guin Batten’s personal collection.)

Duisburg regatta (17-19 May 1996)

Duisburg had a huge entry with Olympic hopefuls from almost every nation targeting the event to test their pace against their peers.

The eight set a new British record in finishing third behind Romania (who set a new World Best Time of 5.58.5) and Canada on the Saturday, and fourth on the Sunday behind the same two crews with the Netherlands (who had been fourth the first day) raising their game to take silver. The Germans finished behind the Brits on both occasions. Geoffrey Page wrote in the Telegraph, “They raced with great spirit on both days, snatching third place on the Saturday with a stirring final burst to pas the Dutch,” while Maurice Hayes said that they, “Impressed with a sub on board,” in Rowing magazine; Miriam was still out because of her rib injury.

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Two pairs of Kate Mackenzie/Philippa Cross and Sue Walker/Gilian Lindsay were entered but it’s unclear whether they actually raced; none of the British newspapers or rowing magazines reported results for GB pairs.

Guin was sixth in the single sculls on the Saturday.

Woman sculler in Thames RC kit

Guin in Duisburg. The black tape marks on her bows helped her coach to see whether the boat was tipping bow-to stern (which reduces it speed) during the stroke. (Photo: Guin Batten’s personal collection.)

Annabel Eyres and Tish Reid didn’t make the final of the double sculls on either day and, recognising that they just weren’t fast enough, knocked the project on the head at that point. Tish remembers,, “We weren’t making an impression so that’s why we said, ‘No.’ We were definitely the fastest double in the country but we weren’t fast enough. Annabel had come fifth in the Olympics in 1992, and we were only interested if we could be a definite finalist boat and that just wasn’t going to happen, even though we might have been selected to do the qualifying regatta.”

An under-23 University of London openweight four of Libby Henshilwood, Claire Hodgson, Nicola Robinson and Liz Walsh came second on the Saturday, crossing the line four seconds off the gold medal. The re-formed lightweight four of Jo Nitsch, Robyn Morris, Trisha Corless and Malindi Myers won the lightweight event on the Saturday and then came second in the openweight fours on the Sunday, beating the UL crew who were fifth by seven seconds.

Tegwen Rooks was sixth in the lightweight single sculls on the Saturday, but Jane and Wilma didn’t make either final of the lightweight double sculls.

Lucerne regatta (30 May-2 June 1996)

Lucerne is usually the final regatta before the World Championships or Olympic Games and as a result, practically all international crews compete there, certainly all European ones. But with the Olympic qualification regatta taking place a week later, this wasn’t so in 1996, as many of those who still had to qualify were focusing on that.

The lightweight coxless four, its lineup unchanged from Duisburg, and lightweight pair of Caroline Hobson and Anna Barclay both won in style, leading throughout their races.

4 women with bouquets and medals

The lightweight coxless four celebrate their win. From left: Jo Nitsch, Robyn Morris, Trisha Corless, Malindi Myers. (Photo © Maggie Phillips.)

Two GB crews raced in the coxless fours where Caroline Dring, Kate Templeton, Sarah Winckless and former lightweight World silver medallist Rachel Woolf finished fourth on the Saturday, 2.78 seconds ahead of the UL crew that had raced in Duisburg. However, the UL crew’s coach, David Martin, remembers that one of his crew was so ill she shouldn’t have raced but did because they felt they ‘had to’.

In the lightweight single sculls, Nicky Dale “sculled exceptionally well”, as Maggie Phillips put it in Rowing magazine, winning her repechage to reach the final where, “She was well in touch until the last 250m, only five seconds down on the eventual winner, but could not match the finishing speed in the final stages,” and crossed the line in sixth place.

Guin Batten also reached the final of the openweight singles after maturely rowing through from fifth to third place to qualify. She then finished sixth and her appeal that she had been twice pushed out of her land by wash from the TV catamaran was not upheld.

Olympic qualification regatta (8-9 June 1996)

The eight and the pair did their final preparations for the crucial qualification regatta at short training camp at altitude in Sarnen, Switzerland.

Both crews had to come first or second in their races to qualify but – in line with work that the squad psychologist Brian Miller had been doing with them on ‘controlling the controlables – Bill encouraged the crew to focus on their performance. Annamarie remembers, “There was a tailwind and I think he knew that there was a possibility of us getting to the six minute mark and even breaking the world best time of 5’58.5″. He kept telling us that the conditions were perfect so we had no excuse not to just get out there and have the race of our lives and do the best time. So it wasn’t about beating other crews.”

They won. In 6.00.16.

Writing later in Regatta magazine, Mike Rosewell reported, “Before the race Bill Mason… said, ‘It has been like being under a 12 month death sentence,'” and that, “In the post-qualification race euphoria in Lucerne, Mason said jubilantly, ‘You’ve never seen a women’ eight like that for GB, have you?'”

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The pair of Philippa Cross and Kate Mackenzie bagged the second of the two qualifying places available in their event. For the openweight rowing group, it was job done for this crucial phase of the project.

Sadly, the lightweight double’s Olympic dreams ended there on the Rotsee. Again, there were just two qualifying places available. “The Romanians just shot off,” Wilma remembers. This left them chasing the Greeks for second place, and although they kept them under pressure the whole way, they crossed the line 1.27 seconds down on them. Looking back at it now, Wilma says that in a way she’s quite glad they didn’t qualify. “Based on our results that season we certainly wouldn’t have medalled, and we probably wouldn’t have done that well at all, and that would have been a very negative experience,” she reflects, adding that their eight months of doubling was rather like having to do a hurdles race when you were really a sprinter. Which does, of course, beg the question as to whether they should have started doubling in 1995. 

Holland Beker, Amsterdam (22-23 June 1996)

It had been announced that Amsterdam regatta would be used as the trial to decide whether the developmental squad crew of Caroline Dring, Kate Templeton, Sarah Winckless and Rachel Woolf, or the University of London WBC cew would be selected as the GB coxless four for the World Championships.

On the Saturday, the University of London WBC four won the silver medal, beating the GB lightweights (who were racing openweight) by 1.54 seconds and the squad four that had beaten them in Lucerne (when one of the UL crew was ill) by 16.2 seconds.

David Martin, the UL four’s coach, remembers Brian Armstrong, the International Rowing Manager, telling him that evening that there would need to be more seat racing after the regatta. Martin protested strongly that his crew had proved themselves that day and at previous trials, and that if his crew was going to go to the Worlds, they needed to be preparing for the under-23 Championships in mid-July not doing more seat racing. Armstrong then agreed that Sunday would be the decider.

The two crews happened to ne drawn into the same heat on the Sunday. The UL crew beat the squad crew by 12.53 seconds, and as the squad crew didn’t qualify for the final, that was that; UL were selected. The GB lightweights, who had been in the other heat, won the bronze medal in the final, finishing 2.91 seconds ahead of the UL crew.

In other events, Jane Hall and Alison Brownless won the lightweight pairs (their Plan B for the year after not qualifying their double for the Olympic Games) on the Saturday by over 10 seconds from Caroline Hobson and Anna Barclay in second, closely followed by Tracy Bennett and Yvette Guise and three domestic Dutch crews. Caroline and Anna won the event comfortably on the Sunday after a two-crew straight fainal against a local pair.

Elise Laverick got the bronze medal in the under-23 single sculls, as did Sarah Watts in the equivalent lightweight event on the Sunday. Claire McDougall-Smith was third in the lightweight single sculls that day.

Henley Women’s Regatta (22-23 June 1996)

With the Olympic and main World Championships teams elsewhere, the only full 1996 international who competed here was Sue Appelboom who won the lightweight single sculls for the seventh year in succession.

Henley Royal Regatta (3-7 July 1996)

The Women’s Single Sculls, like the other top-level events, didn’t attract its usual international field because crews were preparing for the Olympic regatta which started only two weeks later. The exception was Maria Brandin of Sweden, who retained her Henley title before coming fourth in Atlanta.

Former lightweight World silver medallist Rachel Stanhope, who had rowed in the openweight eight at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, reached the semi-finals, beating Sue Appelboom in the first round and then 1992 Olympic sculler Tish Reid (who had beaten Kate Templeton in her initial race) in the quarter finals. Nicky Dale (who was unfortunate to be drawn against Brandin), Tegwen Rooks, Sarah Springman and Ruth Rudkin also didn’t progress beyond the first round.

National Championships (19-21 July 1996)

The Olympic team were away on training camp by this time but the World Championships squad all took part (apart from Sue Appelboom), with the lightweights racing openweight.

The lightweight four won the openweight event with Robyn now steering from three, completely outclassing their club-level opposition and finishing with a lead of 14 seconds.

Jane and Wilma, back doing what they were best at, won openweight pairs by five seconds, and then doubled to win the eights in a scratch combination with the lightweight four, plus the under-23 pair of Anna Barclay and Caroline Hobson, coxed by John Deakin of Notts County. Jane also won lightweight quads with three of her Kingston clubmates (Mary Stevens, Vic Fangen and Sarah Birch).

The young openweight four won the coxed event as well as coming fourth with their UL clubmates in an openweight eight.

Final selections

Olympic team

Eight

B: Annamarie Stapleton (Thames RC)
2: Lisa Eyre (Royal Chester RC)
3: Dot Blackie (Thames RC)
4: Kate Pollitt (Thames RC)
5: Miriam Batten (Thames RC)
6: Cath Bishop (Marlow RC)
7: Jo Turvey (Tideway Scullers’ School)
S: Ali Gill (Upper Thames RC)
Cox: Suzie Ellis (Thames RC)
Coach: Bill Mason

Coxless pair

B: Kate Mackenzie (Thames RC)
S: Philippa Cross (Molesey BC)
Coach: Pete Proudley (Westminster School BC)

Single scull

Guin Batten (Thames RC)
Coach: Miles Forbes-Thomas (London RC)

Reserves

Sue Walker (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
Gillian Lindsay (Clydesdale RC)

World Championships team

Coxless four

B: Claire Hodgson (University of London Women’s BC)
2: Nicola Robinson (University of London Women’s BC)
3: Liz Walsh (University of London Women’s BC)
S: Libby Henshilwood (University of London Women’s BC)
Coach: David Martin (University of London Women’s BC)

Lightweight coxless four

B: Malindi Myers (University of London Women’s BC)
2: Trisha Corless (Staines BC)
3: Robyn Morris (Kingston RC)
S: Jo Nitsch (Bedford RC)
Coach: Tony Reynolds

Lightweight pair

B: Alison Brownless (Thames RC)
S: Jane Hall (Kingston RC)
Coach: Alan AB Bennett

Lightweight single scull

Sue Appelboom (Mortlake Anglian and Alpha BC)
Coach: Tony James

Spares

Caroline Hobson (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
Anna Barclay (Thames Tradesmen’s RC) (lightweight)
Tegwen Rooks (University of London Women’s BC) (lightweight)

Pre-Olympic training camps

The whole GB Olympic rowing team (men and women) went for an initial training camp in Aiguebelette, which wasn’t ideal because although it was an excellent venue that GB teams had used several times, it wasn’t large enough to accommodate this many boats in terms of landing stage space and not washing each other down with coaching launches. The men’s and women’s teams also weren’t used to being on camp together which unsettled the dynamics.

With both squads vying for limited resources, Cath Bishop remembers, “Compared with the men, we got last dibs on what time you want to go rowing on the lake, we got last dibs on equipment in the boathouse you need to use like trestles, and in terms of Bill getting a coaching launch, he had the duffest launch with the engine that broke down the most so we got the least coaching from him because he was sorting out the engine all the time. I did challenge this with the management but was more or less told that women weren’t the performance priority because we hadn’t delivered. And I think up to that point I’d thought, ‘I’m in the team, I’m going to the Olympics, I’m here theoretically to try and win this,’ and that I was in an environment where everyone wanted us to do that, and suddenly I was being told that people didn’t really think we were going to do that and we were at a different level. And that hit me in the face really, that I didn’t have a voice and wouldn’t have one until I’d deliver some results.”

women's four on raft

Lactate testing during training in Aiguebelette. (Photo: Guin Batten’s personal collection.)

After this everyone set off for a North American preparation camp in Canada where they were guests of South Niagara Rowing Club and rowed on a disused stretch of the Welland Canal which provided 4k of straight water.

Things got off to a slightly bad start when the boats landed in Chicago not Toronto and so were late getting there. Annamarie also remembers the frustrations of operating as part of the wider team rather than doing what was best for each crew. “We were doing Jurgen Grobler (the men’s coach)’s programme so if Jurgen decided that we would all do our 2,000m on such and such a day, and on another day we would do 1,000m or whatever, that’s what we did and it really put Bill on edge because he liked to do his thing his way. If we’d had a choice we would have been at Craftsbury not at Welland, he didn’t want to be at Welland, we knew he didn’t want to go to Welland. Everything was kind of a little bit tetchy.”

Miriam remembers that it was also unexpectedly cold, and therefore not good preparation for the hot, humid conditions which were expected in Atlanta, 900 miles further south. “We even tried to row in black bin bags to get acclimatised to rowing when we were really hot,” she says, “But it didn’t work and I think the whole British team suffered a bit from going to Welland instead of somewhere like Talahassee where we would have had really hot temperatures.” Most other GB teams had their final camp before Atlanta at Talahassee in Florida and the GB rowers had done a pre-World Championships camp there in 1994.

Ali Gill’s recollection was even more downbeat. “I remember being in Canada and the crew was going so, SO badly, that I got Suzie to stop the boat and I turned round and said ‘Look, this is like really terrible,’ and you have to be quite careful what you say as stroke because you can never tell a crew what to do, ‘So how about we start from backstops and just keep rowing, let’s just row hands only until we can do that, we’ll do something else, but let’s just set our goal to row well and not try and do any pieces or anything, just get some confidence back in rowing,’ because it was horrendous.”

Larry Tracey wrote each of the women in the eight a very carefully thought-out individual letter, drawing out their particular strengths and wishing them luck which they received just after the camp. These must have been inspiring, but the results would be on the water.

lots of people in Team GB t-shirts

End of the Welland camp. (Photo: Guin Batten’s personal collection.)

At the Games

Transport logistics

Lake Lanier, the rowing venue, was 55 miles from downtown Atlanta and hadn’t been the first choice location. The original bid had identified Stone Mountain Lake, a mere 16 miles from the city centre, but the proposal required two islands to be removed and once the bid had turned into reality, the park authorities understandably refused to allow this. But although the distance to the course was always going to be far from ideal, involving a journey of around an hour, it should have been manageable with well-run transport logistics. Unfortunately, these were appalling.

In the British Olympic Association’s report on the Games, Dan Topolski, former international, coach and journalist said that stories about, “The appalling transportation and [the Organising Committee’s] broken promises about smooth, regular, air-conditioned bus journeys to and from the venue were not exaggerated.” Chris Dodd and Mike Rosewell wrote in Regatta magazine that there were, “Late buses, no-show buses, drivers who didn’t know the way, drivers who fell asleep at the wheel, drivers who turned around because they were frightened on the freeway. Rowers of several nations demonstrated at the village more than once and succeeded in hijacking buses destined for other venues.”  Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, stars of the GB men’s team, famously moved out of the Olympic Village and into a hotel near the course after having to commandeer Princess Anne’s courtesy car to get to the lake in time for their first race.

Annamarie recalls, “After the first few days, all us athletes had worked out that we each needed a map and people would take it in turns to stand in front with the bus driver and direct him to get to Lake Lanier, so everything was just stressful. And on the morning of our first heat there were no busses to the rowing lake so Ali and I showed our leadership skills and we had a sit-in on the road and and then ended up hijacking a hockey bus to get there. The hockey players actually all got off and gave us their bus to get to Lake Lanier, because otherwise there wasn’t going to be a bus.”

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Accreditation

Although the qualification systems had been brought in across sports to manage the number of athletes (and therefore coaches) at the Games, space was still tight and the Organising Committee only gave Olympic Village accreditation to full team athletes and a fixed quota of coaches. This meant that the spares and the pair’s coach, Pete Proudly, only had access to the rowing venue and also stayed in separate accommodation in the Ramada in Gainesville (which, ironically, was a lot more convenient for the rowing course). Miriam recalls, “It was really sad because you need 10 people to run an eight but the reserves were always second class and they weren’t allowed to be in the village, they weren’t allowed any kit, they were really treated incredibly badly.” She also adds that the fact that Pete wasn’t in the Olympic Village with them was not only a problem for the pair, who couldn’t discuss things with him in the evenings, as athletes usually do, but it also impacted the eight because, “He was good at bringing everyone together and calming Bill down because Bill got really nervous too.”

Sex verification

A final stress for all women competing in Atlanta (in all sports) was that – for the last time at an Olympic Games – they had to undergo a sex test to confirm that they were women. Done from a saliva swab, this was physically unobtrusive, but potentially traumatic psychologically. Annamarie recalls, “When we first arrived in the village the men were all sent off in one direction, and we had to go and queue round a large room. The swab was taken at the entrance and by the time you’d queued around the outside you’d got your result as to whether you’d be able to race or not. And although I sort of laughed about it initially, once the swab had been taken, I do remember wondering what would happen if any of us had ‘failed’. There wasn’t anyone to give us any sort of advice or support, and none of us had been tested in advance so we didn’t know whether we had the right chromosomes or not.”

Opening ceremony

Although several of the eight have recently described their official opening ceremony shorts as “awful”, the uniforms, supplied by Acquascutum, were a lot better than those issued for most previous Olympic Games, and at least they were practical for the heat, which was important because the opening ceremony went on for far longer than was even intended.

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Racing conditions

Although Team Manager described the Lake Lanier venue as “truly outstanding”, the GB women disagreed. The biggest problem was that the conditions were quite changeable. Annamarie remembers, “When we first got to the village they gave us all umbrellas and I remember thinking, ‘This is the south of America, it’s supposed to be sunny and hot!’ But it rained every day in the afternoon, every day there was a thunderstorm.”

Related to the rapid swings in the weather was the fact that, because the racing took place on a natural lake, the coaches couldn’t actually see the start of the course from the boating location. More on what this meant in practice shortly.

Results

Single scull (5th out of 17)

The progression for Guin’s first race was that just one sculler would go straight to the semi-finals and the rest to a repechage. The five scullers in her heat included the eventual silver (Silken Laumann) and bronze (Trine Hansen) medallists. Guin finished fourth behind Hansen, Laumann and the Chinese sculler Liu, in a respectable time.

Three more scullers would get through to the semis from each of the three repechages and Guin finished third in hers behind Davidon of the USA and Neykova of Bulgaria, but a comfortable ten seconds ahead of the 19-year old German in fourth place and nearly 45 seconds in front of another 19-year old from Algeria who had reached the Games via the African qualification regatta. A photo of the first stroke of the race, which shows how rough it was, can be seen here.

Guin had to finish in the first three in her semi-final to reach the A final. Mike Rosewell, who described her as “Britain’s rising star” in The Times and quoted her as saying that the line-up for her semi was “the best field I have ever raced in”, described how the race went. “[She] produced one of her best starts but was lying in fifth place at 500m. She passed Liu, from China, at half way but was well adrift of the vital third place. She moved up a little by 1,500m and was overlapping Ruth Davidon of the United States, but Davidon rallied and moved away when, 300m from home, Batten passed Peter Haining, her training partner [going in the other direction in the warm-up lane], on the way to his semi-final. ‘Guin, you can do it, they are fading,’ came a shout. Guin believed it and overtook Lipa… to book a place in the final,” eventually finishing over five seconds ahead of Lipa.

In the A final she managed to beat Davidon to finish fifth, a little under eight seconds off the bronze medal, and just 2.5 seconds behind fourth-placed Maria Brandin after closing on her considerably in the last quarter of the race.

Photos of Guin racing can be seen here and here.

Geoffrey Page wrote in the Telegraph, “To reach the final was a major success in an event in which the reigning Olympic Champion, Elisabeta Lipa, and the silver medallist, Anneliese Braedel were relegated to the B final. The editor of Rowing magazine added his admiration, writing, “To Guin Batten, Rowing can only offer her sincere congratulations on a superb first Olympic final appearance. We hope that she can receive the support and time to train that will see her improve to medal class in during the next four-year cycle,” and Dan Topolski quoted her in another paper as saying, “I’m already planning for Sydney.”

Guin wrote later that of all the people who helped her on the long road to the Games, “The greatest thanks of all go to Miles Forbes-Thomas (despite being a London man [London RC and Guin’s club Thames RC having traditionally been bitter rivals – Ed.]). Miles without complaint planned and orchestrated a perfect seven months of training and technique work.”

Eight (7th out of 8)

After their hijack of the bus that was meant to go to the hockey stadium, the eight’s first round race went badly. Only one crew out of the four in their heat would go straight to the final and that position was rapidly taken by the Romanians (the eventual gold medallists), but the British crew didn’t row well and finished fourth, over five seconds behind the Germans.

Their repechage was a six-boat race from which four would qualify, and this is where the changeable wind conditions come in. Annamarie recalls, “Bill tod us that he couldn’t tell what the wind was like up at the start so got us to take screwdrivers and make a decision out there about whether we needed to adjust the gearing on our blades. And of course we got out, felt the wind and half the boat said, ‘Let’s move it.’ and half said, ‘No,’ and there was a big ‘do we/don’t we’ debate and it really didn’t matter whether we changed it or not, the problem was that by that point we were split and we were on the water for our most crucial race.” Cath Bishop adds, “It meant our heads weren’t where we needed to be and as we weren’t that cohesive a unit, I don’t think we were really capable of making that sort of difficult decision.”

The race was no better than their heat. Miriam explains, “What happened was that we went off the start and it was going really well, but the Australians were beside us and they did a big push, and it was almost like we took our brains out and started rushing up and down the slide. It felt like people in the boat were trying to move the boat on their own rather than everyone in the boat doing it together. There was all this panic that I could feel in the boat.” They finished last, 2.85 seconds behind the Germans this time, and 3,36 seconds behind the Australians whom they’d trounced by 4.35 seconds at the qualification regatta.

When they got back to the Olympic Village after the repechage, Dot Blackie wrote a letter to Larry Tracey – primarily to thank him and XP plc for their support which removed “all of the external limiting factors”. She also said, “I have to apologise that we didn’t repay your faith in us with an appropriate response. I have no explanations of excuses, we simply not go as fast as we were capable of. Performing ‘on the day’ is what it’s all about and we didn’t. I don’t know yet how I could have done it differently, but in letting myself down I’m painfully aware of having let you down too.”

“It was just a flop in its first race and after that it could not lift itself to get into the final,” International Rowing Manager Brian Armstrong was quoted as saying in Regatta. 

They won the two-boat B-final, beating Germany by 2.52 seconds. “We rowed really well in the small final,” Ali Gill recalls. “We’d rowed unbelievably badly in the repechage and the way we rowed in the small final was totally different. I think everyone had relaxed. You’ve got nothing to lose at that point. It was really sad.”

Eights racing at Atlanta 1996

GB beating Germany in the B final. (Photo: Annamarie Phelps’ personal collection.)

Follow these links for more photo of the eight racing, AliMiriam, Jo, Cath, Miriam and Kate. Kate and Dot, and Suzie.

Coxless pair (12th out of 13)

Kate and Philippa came fourth in their heat of four, from which three progressed directly to the semi-finals. In their four-boat rep, from which only one crew would be eliminated, and with Argentina quickly establishing itself as the one to go out, and the British pair finished in third place in quite a spread out field.

They then came sixth in their semi, which put them into the B final, where they also finished sixth.

Photos of the pair on the start and racing can be seen here, here and here.

Roundup

The 1996 Olympics were a low point for the whole of Team GB, not just its female rowers, although rowing did win the nation’s only gold as the men’s pair of Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent retained their title.

The former rowing coach and journalist Dan Topolski wrote, “The women’s eight also failed to realise the investment of time, energy, cash and emotion in a year in which they secured Olympic qualification at Lucerne in June, with a record time of six minutes. They had their best row in the small final, beating Germany… ‘I still don’t understand why we failed to perform,’ said coach Bill Mason. ‘Maybe distractions and transport problems had an effect, and having to peak for Lucerne, but probably inexperience of winning regularly at the very top level played a bigger part.’… Mason was appointed last year to the job… but again there was little time to plan a coherent long-term strategy.”

Amongst the rowers there are different theories which don’t necessarily conflict, but reflect the range of different routes that brought them to the eight.

Ali Gill, the veteran of two Olympic Games, who had come fifth in the double in 1992, says, “It was a fast eight. That’s obvious from the time we did in qualifying. But it was just very capable of destroying itself. Everyone was clear what the goal was and there was a real sense of unity around the goal. There were a lot of differences of opinion about how we could do it and how we should do it. My reflection on it would be, the crew needed Billy and Pete Proudly to manage it because there were a lot of personalities in the group and there was also this massive difference between the people who were just new to the squad and new to training and had never been to the Olympics and people that had been to the Olympics and wanted to win medals. And Billy is a brilliant coach but he’s not so good at man management but Pete Proudly was brilliant at man management so Pete would keep the team together and make people resolve conflicts and work through things and keep the atmosphere right and Billy would manage the training and the technical aspects of the crew. But because Pete wasn’t with us in the Village we lost that.” She adds, “I think the inconsistency in the crew at least partly stemmed from lack of experience because mature rowers that have been doing it for a long time are much more consistent. But when you put people into the mix who are not as mature, they simply can’t row as consistently and I think the eight really suffered from that, and it needed managing and I don’t think it was managed.”

But all of this might have been OK, she thinks, if they hadn’t also had to qualify that year. “You can’t do that without going into it absolutely full on because unless you qualify you’ve got no hope. And people have always said to me in rowing you’ve only really got one medal winning performance a year, and so we peaked for Lucerne and couldn’t manage to come back up again.”

Annamarie agrees with this view. “The issue with this year was that we’d completely wound down for the qualifying regatta and were completely focused on that because we had to be but then we only had six weeks to do a mini winter’s training getting back into strength and then come back down again, and we were working on Jurgen’s programme timing which was designed round the men who had all qualified at the world championships the year before.” Of course, crews race at the normal Lucerne regatta before the World Championships every year but, Annamarie, says, “Jurgen’s programme never took the men into Lucerne rested. Never. The British men often appear to “underperform” at Lucerne because they train through it to peak at the World Championships. But for us, this was all or nothing, so we’d wound down.”

Miriam is unconvinced by this argument, and feels that they hadn’t done enough side by side work to get used to racing under pressure. “I think we should have done more in fours against each other. We did it in the pairs in the autumn and then I think we spent a little bit too much time just in the eight.” As evidence for this, she points out how well they rowed at the qualifying regatta and the B final at the Olympics. “If we were in the lead we were fine.”

Dot’s view is that they were better prepared organisationally for the qualifying regatta, where they were a focus rather than yet another crew in a bigger team, but she also thinks that they all made the wrong decision about not changing the gearing before the repechage. “We missed a trick there because the dissenting voice in the boat was Annamarie who was the person with the wind on her back at bow and we didn’t listen to what she said or what her opinion was and if you think about it logically, she’s the one who can feel what’s going on, the rest of us are all sheltered.” She adds, “That’s the sort of small detail that wouldn’t be left to the crew to decide nowadays. Someone would have been sent up there and men’s crews didn’t have an issue with it so again, we missed a trick somewhere there and I think it’s a shame because we were a great crew, but it wasn’t embedded, it hadn’t been good often enough for long enough for us to expect it to be good.”

Mike Rosewell concluded his piece in Regatta magazine, saying, “Whether their need to qualify with a magnificent row in Lucerne could not be matched with an Olympic repeat, whether their frustrations at the transport arrangements had an effect, or whether there was simply an inability to rise to the ‘big occasion’ we shall never now. What we do know is that Bill Mason, their coach, who is arguing, very reasonably, for a Women’s Centre of Excellence.

There had been the long sought-after full time coach for the last two years but the GB women’s team at the sixth Olympic Games to include women’s rowing was three boats and twelve people: the eight, the pair and the single, of which one boat reached a final. In 1992 there had been 18 people in five boats of which two reached finals. Standards rise in sport all the time.

World Rowing Championships (5-11 August 1996)

These combined championships for both senior openweight and lightweight non-Olympic events and juniors categories took place at Strathclyde Country Park near Glasgow.

Single sculler in squiggly kit

Sue Appelboom in Strathclyde wearing what the athletes all came to call ‘xxxx kit’, where ‘xxxx’ is an expletive that rhymes with ‘kit’. The design reverted to the traditional red and blue hoops on a white top the next year. (Photo © John Shore.)

Lightweight coxless pair (2nd out of 8)

Jane and Wilma won their heat by a comfortable four seconds, progressing them straight to the final.

At the 1,000m point in the final they were lying out of the medals in fourth place but they pushed on through, passing Australia and then exacted sweet revenge by passing the very same Romanians who had beaten them so soundly in the Olympic qualifying regatta, finishing 0.65 second ahead of them and six seconds off gold.

This further increased Wilma’s status as GB’s most successful rower, now with a total of six medals, and Jane became second-equal with Annamarie on four.

Chris Dodd wrote in Regatta, “Their greatest satisfaction was beating the Romanian pair ‘at our own game’ as Hall put it.”

Two women with arms out

Jane and Wilma making a point about sculling whilst waiting to receive their medals for the pair in 1996. (Photo: Alison Purnell’s personal collection.)

A young Kath Grainger is the silver medal cushion carrier in the presentation video below.

b/w photo of smiling women in pair

Jane (left) and Wilma with their fourth and sixth World Championships medals. (Photo © John Shore.)

Lightweight coxless four (2nd out of 6)

Faced with a straight final, the lightweight four were given the option of doing a race for lanes earlier in the week but they opted not to do it. Trisha explains, “I think we just didn’t want to show what we could or couldn’t do.

Like the pair, they were in fourth place at halfway point in the final. Regatta magazine described how, “They were helped by seeing Brownless and Hall’s race while on their way to the start and by the vociferous crowds after they had committed burns at 250m out and 250m from home. The second one pushed the Americans to third place and gave the Chinese a fright,” finished agonisingly just 0.99 seconds off gold.

Katherine Grainger was the medal cushion carrier for the gold medals this time.

The four are all wearing matching red, white and blue necklaces which they’d made (led by Robyn, Trisha remembers).

Lightweight single scull (6th out of 16)

Sue came third in her heat of five from which only one went straight to the semi-finals. She then did what she needed to in her rep from which three would go through in which the American took a commanding lead, and crossed the line in third place in quite a closely packed race between her, the Romanian in front and the two scullers behind.

Her semi-final also saw four scullers chasing the three critical places, but Sue got her bows into third and qualified for her second World Championships final where she finished sixth in a race where less than three seconds separated the three medallists but the other three were further back.

This photo of Sue racing shows how unpleasantly rough it was.

Coxless four (9th out of 11)

The four came second in their heat by 3.75 seconds but only one crew qualified directly for the final, so this put them in the repechage from which two would go through. Theirs turned out to be the faster of the two reps, and they finished third, 1.9 seconds off qualifying for the A final.

They also came third in the B final where less than two seconds covered second to fifth.

This young University of London Women’s BC crew, who were all undergraduates, had taken on the double goal of representing GB at the under-23 Nations Cup three weeks earlier (where they’d hoped to win) as well as the World Champioships, not to mention three of them sitting their final exams too. “In hindsight this was an impossible combo,” their coach David Martin says, but what was already packed schedule had arguably been pushed over the edge by them being required to race at the Holland Beker regatta three weeks before the Nations Cup in order to confirm their selection for the Worlds. After they finished fourth at the Nations Cup, Martin says, “From then on it was a struggle mentally and I can only say I was immensely proud of the heat at Worlds.”

World Junior Championships

Quad (4th out of 12)

B: Stephanie Price (Pengwern BC)
2: Frances Houghton (King’s School, Canterbury BC)
3: Lucy Heise (King’s School, Canterbury BC)
S: Nicola Ledger (Kingston RC)**
Coach: Ian South (Kingston RC)

Coxless four (6th out of 9)

B: Laura Fitzgibbon (George Watson’s College BC)*
2: Louise Redknap (Kingston Grammar School BC)
3: Isabel Walker (George Watson’s College BC)*
S: Penny Welch (Lady Eleanor Holles School BC)
Coach: Louise Kingsley (Kingston Grammar School BC)

Double scull (11th out of 14)

B: Suzanne Edwards (Stourport BC)
S: Kate Holton (King’s School, Canterbury BC)
Coach: Martin Lawrence (King’s School, Canterbury BC)

Pair (6th out of 9)

B: Nicole Scott (Nithsdale BC)
S: Faye McDowall (George Watson’s College BC)
Coach: Graham Smith (George Watson’s College BC)

* Denotes a previous participation in the World Junior Championships.

Nations Cup (12-14 July 1996)

These under-23 championships took place in Hazewinkel, Belgium.

Coxless four (4th out of 5)

B: Claire Hodgson (University of London Women’s BC)**
2: Nicola Robinson (University of London Women’s BC)*
3: Liz Walsh (University of London Women’s BC)*
S: Libby Henshilwood (University of London Women’s BC)
Coach: David Martin (University of London Women’s BC)

This was, of course, the crew which would go on to race three weeks later at the senior World Championships. In fifth place at 1,500m gone, they pushed on to seize fourth place, finishing only 1.11 seconds behind bronze. David Martin feels the fact that they’d had to race at the Holland Beker regatta just three weeks earlier had got in the way of their preparation for the Nations Cup. “It was more than disappointing. We were beaten by crews we had hammered a short time before,” he says.

Coxless pair (6th out of 7)

B: Madeleine Anscomb (University of Nottingham BC)
S: Josephine Andrews (University of Nottingham BC)
Coach: Adrian Roberts (University of Nottingham BC)

Double scull (11th out of 14)

B: Joanna Burns (Cambois RC)
S: Claire Fox (Kingston RC)
Coach: John Specer (Eton Excelsior RC)

Single scull (3rd out of 10)

Elise Laverick (Thames RC)

Geoffrey page wrote in Regatta that Elise, “Was impressive in winning her heat… and sculled even better to take the bronze medal in the final,” adding, “This is the first time Britain has won a single sculls medal in these championships.”

Maggie Phillips described in Rowing how, in the final, “In third place at 1,500m gone, four seconds off third, Elise gradually increased her pace over the last 500m and nearly caught the German for silver.”

Amongst Elise’s family supporters was her sister’s boyfriend who was a professional trumpet player and had brough his instrument with him. He positioned himself on the bank about half way along the course and played as races came past. He soon started taking requests which included ‘Tie me kangaroo down, sport’ for the Autralians and ‘Danny boy’ for the Irish. For Elise’s race, of course, he played ‘Für Elise’ which made her smile – and positive emotions can be very motivating.

A photo of Elise after receiving her medal can be seen here.

Lightweight double scull (9th out of 11)

B: Mary Stevens (Kingston RC)*
S: Victoria Fangen (Kingston RC)
Coach: Ian South (Kingston RC)

Lightweight single scull (4th out of 12)

Sarah Watts (University of London Women’s BC)*
Coach: David Martin (University of London Women’s BC)

Sarah “made the A final by the skin of her teeth” as Maggie Phillips put it in Rowing magazine, and then missed the bronze medal by just over a length after what Geoffrey Page described as “a gallant effort” in Regatta, rowing from fifth to fourth in the second half of the final.

* Denotes a previous participation in the Nations Cup.

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The photo at the top of this page of the GB women’s eight coming seventh at the 1996 Olympics is from Annamarie Phelps’ personal collection.

© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2020.