1997 World Rowing Championships

The 1997 World Rowing Championships took place at Aiguebelette in France from 30 August to 7 September. 68 openweight and 43 lightweight women’s crews raced from 35 countries. This was considerably fewer entries than at the 1995 World Championships (the most recent to offer the full programme but which had also been a qualifying event for the 1996 Olympic Games), largely because of a massive drop in the number of lightweight doubles.

FISA, the governing body of World rowing, decided in February 1997 that the lightweight coxless fours would be replaced by lightweight quads. With seven seats for lightweight scullers and just two for sweep rowers now instead of three and six, women’s lightweight sweep rowing was now a distinctly minority activity, which was a shame for the British team as it had excelled in the discipline, winning eight medals in the coxless four in the 11 years that it had been in the programme (compared with three in the double scull and one in the single during the same period) as well as two out of two in the coxless pair since it had been added in 1995.

A wider change for the 1997 World Champioships is that the hoisting of national flags and the playing of national anthems were reintroduced for medal ceremonies. These had been banned since 1962, apparently to minimise political propaganda opportunities for Communist regimes.

Funding

1997 is widely remembered in British elite sport as the year when National Lottery funding arrived. Rowing was one of seven sports to benefit initially, boath as a result of a huge amount of hard work on the application by what was then called the Amateur Rowing Association, and the well-structured setup for selection and management which was already in place.

In the end, rowing received £9.6 million for the four-year Olympiad from 1997-2000 from UK Sport’s World Class Performance Programme as part of its performance and excellence strategy to win Olympic and world medals. The first year’s allocation was £1,861,243 of which, Regatta announced, “£674,306 will  go to cover subsistence grants for 68 rowers (including 17 women who meet the criteria with a world ranking).” This works out at £9,916 on average, but top performers received up to £15,000, meaning that others received less. The remainder of the Sports Lottery Fund covered the costs of coaches, training camps, regatta expenses, a boatman and equipment manager, sports medicine (physios, psychology and physiology support), and, presumably, boats.

However, the money didn’t start coming through until May 1997, and as far as the GB women’s rowing squad was concerned, the Larry Tracey and XP plc’s private sponsorship deal for the openweight eight had ended at the 1996 Olympic Games. This left returning athletes in limbo: should they commit to training again as ‘professionals’ from the autumn of 1996 with the expectation that funding would come through but with nothing to live on until then, or should they get jobs and try to fit their training round those (which had long been shown as being practically incompatible with results)? Some Sports Aid Foundation grants were expected in the short term from the start of November, but the monies were months late in coming through, which didn’t actually allow anyone to pay their rent, and some of the returning Olympic athletes who went straight back to full-time training remember having to borrow cars to get to trials and camping at Nottingham in wintry conditions because they couldn’t afford to stay at the Watersports Centre.

Guin Batten, GB’s single sculler at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, was one of the very few members of the squad to have this dilemma eased by being awarded one of just five Seeboard sports grants of £5,000 a year for the next four years for training and equipment costs. Guin was quoted in Regatta magazine as saying. “This is the first time I have had any financial security for some years. In order to win at rowing, training must be a full-time commitment and in the past I have always had to review my situation annually to see if I could afford to carry on… it is wonderful to be recognised.”

Coaching and strategy

Back in June 1996, before the Olympic Games, three of the most experienced members of the GB team – Miriam Batten, Ali Gill, and Annamarie Stapleton – had had discussions with David Tanner, who had recently been promoted to International Rowing Manager.

They stressed that:

  • The women’s team needed to be independent from the men’s team and have its own Chief Coach because it was at a different stage of development, because women have different motivations and needs than men, and because with fewer girls than boys rowing at school (and therefore factoring rowing into their choice of university), there was a greater need for talent ID and nurturing. For this reason, they felt that the idea of women training out of Leander was not practical.
  • The next Women’s Chief Coach needed to be appointed as soon as possible so that he or she could set the training programme from the very beginning of the season and start organising training weekends, and be present for the full four-year term to provide continuity and development.
  • The women’s squad needed a more permanent training base and it was important that this was identified as soon as possible to allow athletes to relocate and sort out work and/or study commitments. They did not support David Tanner’s enthusiasm for them to train out of their clubs over the winter because they considered the gap between club and international rowing to be higher for women’s squads than for men’s.

Notes they made at the meeting said, “David Tanner could not guarantee that the appointment of a Women’s Chief Coach would be his top priority, but emphasised that it was a priority” alongside development of the under-23 teams, sculling and coach education. Much was dependent on funding. If there was funding for three full-time coaches, one would be for women, but if there was only funding for two, one would not necessarily be for women.”

It was, however, “Unanimously agreed that GB had the potential to develop crew sculling, and that the number of Olympic medals available for number of athletes made this a priority.” In short, there was scope to win three medals with seven scullers, but only two with 10 sweep rowers and a cox. In addition, lightweight and openweight groups could be mixed in sculling.

The solution to all of this came in the form of coach Mike Spracklen, who was appointed as Women’s Chief Coach from the beginning of January 1997, though his services were only secured because Larry Tracey, who was a long-time friend of Spracklen’s, stepped in to pay his salary for up to a year until such time as Lottery funding came through. Spracklen had previously coached the GB men’s four (containing Steve Redgrave) that had won at the 1984 Olympics, GB’s first gold medal since 1948, and then coached Steve and Andy Holmes to gold at the 1988 Games too, before taking up national squad coaching appointments in Canada and the USA. He returned to his home near Marlow Lock, and the women’s squad was offered the use of the Longridge Scout Camp practically next door. Sure, their boats were outside, and the facilities were basic, but they had access to an excellent and long stretch of river that – crucially – had no other rowing club churning it up with coaching launch wash, and few residents who would be disturbed by early-morning megaphone usage. 1996 Olympian Cath Bishop remembers, “The whole concept that there should be one place and people should move there was really radical.”

Spracklen had a floating ‘office’ (complete with carpet) built to his specifications by Burgashell from an original design by Roger Silk of Cambridge.

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Most of the women who moved to train at Longridge became members of Marlow RC, and some got part-time jobs that fitted round their training: Gillian Lindsay worked for Perpetual plc, sponsors of the British Indoor Championships, while Dot Blackie, who had been a teacher, became a receptionist at the British International Rowing Office in Hammersmith.

Sean Bowden, who had coached the men’s eight in Atlanta, held the fort over the autumn as Co-ordinator for Women until Spracklen arrived. In June 1997 Louise Kingsley joined the International Coaching Staff as High Performance Coach for New Talent (Women).

Strategy

Sean Bowden’s strategy document issued in October 1996 stated, “Priority will be given to Olympic boat classes with a particular intention to develop sculling. Initial priority will be given to the development of the ssingle scull, double scull, lightweight double scull and pair. The development of the quad and eight will best be achieved on top of a strong small boat base,” although no reason was given for why the latter was considered to be so. He also stated that non-Olympic boat classes (which included the openweight coxed four and all lightweight events other than the double) may be used more specifically for long-term development.

The long-term aim was to win GB women’s first Olympic medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Squad formation

Not all of the continuing internationals made the shift to Longridge as soon as Spracklen arrived, for various reasons. Chris Dodd wrote later in Regatta magazine that although there was an ‘open house’ system, only Cath Bishop, Gillan Lindsay and Lisa Eyre attended regularly. Miriam Batten had returned to her job in London after Atlanta and was training out of Thames RC. “I went down to Longridge couple of times at weekends, but I was working full time, and then I took a week’s holiday so I could train there full time. Mike said, ‘Whenever you want to go out, I’ll be there,’ and he was, so if I wanted to go out in the afternoon he’d just turn up and coach and I’d never had that before, it was brilliant!” She was sufficiently convinced that she committed to rowing full time again. She adds, “He’s quite a hard taskmaster: if you’re going to work hard he’ll support you but if you don’t he won’t. And all the training was side by side and really competitive and it does break people, so that’s why there was a lot of fall out because if you’re at the bottom of the pile and you’re constantly battling to try and get up there every single day, it’s like constant seat racing and it does kill people, but it makes you really mentally tough.”

Sculler Guin Batten was training full time from the start of the season, but spent the first three months of 1997 in Hong Kong rather than Marlow, as a guest of the Hong Kong Sports Institute which was run by a British expat Chris Perry, whose wife was a Hong Kong international lightweight sculler. She’d started forming a small single sculling group as soon as she came back from Atlanta, Her main training partner was the lightweight Jane Hall, who also went to Hong Kong with her. All of Jane’s crewmates from 1993-1996 had retired so she’d decided to single for the 1997 year. When they were in the UK they were often joined at Thames RC by Elise Laverick, an under-23 whom they adopted as their “little sculling sister”. Guin and Jane were joined in Hong Kong by the Irish sculler Niall O’Toole, and coached by Guin’s coach of the past two years, Miles Forbes-Thomas.

Winter training, assessment and racing

Head of the River Fours (9 November 1996)

A Thames RC quad containing Guin Batten and Jane Hall was comfortably the fastest women’s crew, finishing 42nd.

Thames World Sculling Challenge (16 November 1996)

This fourth running of this event over the boat race course from Putney to Mortlake included a women’s race for the first time. There were initially three entries, but the 1995 World Champion Maria Brandin of Sweden withdrew because she was called up to compete for her national skiing B-team.

Just the two 1996 GB scullers lined up on the start therefore; Guin Batten, the openweight Olympian, and Sue Appelboom, the lightweight who had retired from international duty after coming sixth at the World Championships, and was 20kg lighter than her opponent. Sue took the lead off the start but Guin quickly powered past her and eventually won by 38 seconds.

b/w photo of 2 scullers passing Dove Pier pursued by 5 launches

Guin Batten leads Sue Appelboom at around half way in the Thames World Sculling Challenge 1996. (Photo: Guin Batten’s personal collection.)

British Indoor Rowing Championships (24 November 1996)

These were raced over 2,000m for the first time, rather than the 2,500m distance covered previously.

Cath Bishop, accurately described in Rowing magazine as “the Olympic eight  powerhouse”, won the openweight women’s race in 6.46, followed by Guin Batten in 6.47, and Kate Giles of Thames RC in 7.02. Elise Laverick won the Under-23 event in 7.08 from Alison Trickey who did 7.09.

The Open Lightweight event was won by a Dutch woman with Jane Hall second in 7.21 and Tracy Langlands third in 7.25. Nicky Dale won Senior (30-39 years) Lightweight in 7.10.

Tiffin Small Boats Head (23 Nov 1996)

Tiffin SBH was used for many years as an early identification trial. Everyone raced singles in the morning and the fastest scullers were:

(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 1997.)

  1. Guin Batten: 21.07
  2. Jane Hall (lightweight): 21.42
  3. Sarah Springman: 22.01
  4. Elise Laverick: 22.06
  5. Sarah Winckless: 22.10
  6. Caroline Dring: 22.13
  7. Nicky Dale: 22.21
  8. Mary Stevens (lightweight, under-23), Libby Henshilwood and Ruth Rudkin: 22.31

In the afternoon, they mostly did doubles:

  1. Guin Batten/Elise Laverick: 20.13
  2. Jane Hall/Tegwen Rooks (lightweight): 20:28
  3. Caroline Dring/Libby Henshilwood: 20:38
  4. Robyn Morris/Jo Nitsch (lightweight): 20:53
  5. Nicola Ledger (under-23)/Gillian Lindsay: 21:10

Training camp (14-15 December 1996)

The results from three rate-capped 1,700m pieces in Nottingham in doubles with “not all crews strictly on rate” were that Gillian Lindsay/Lisa Eyre were the fastest openweights followed by Libby Henshilwood/Caroline Dring. Jo Nitsch/Robyn Morris headed the lightweights with Anna Van Leemputten/Tracy Langlands second.

1st open assessment (19 Jan 1997)

This took place in Peterborough.

In the autumn, Sean Bowden had written that, “The strategy for 1997 will require performance in sculling boats from all athletes seeking selection in Olympic boat classes. While recognising the importance of developing and assessing individual boat-moving ability, it is understood that some athletes will be new to sculling and may find it hard to impress at early assessments.” In other words, poor results by quite good rowers would be tolerated – at least for a while.

Guin Batten and Jane Hall missed these trials because they were in Hong Kong.

Run 1 (4,000m)

Pairs

  1. Jo Davis/Katherine Grainger
  2. Katrina Hastings/Claire Vincent (under-23)
  3. Alison Trickey/Hirsch
  4. Isabel Walker/Frances Houghton (junior)
  5. Alice Pitt-Pitts/Bethia Woolf (under-23)

Openweight singles

  1. Miriam Batten
  2. Libby Henshilwood
  3. Sarah Winckless
  4. Dot Blackie
  5. Alex Beaver
  6. C Smith (TTRC)
  7. Gillian Lindsay
  8. Elise Laverick
  9. Lisa Eyre
  10. Ruth Rudkin
  11. Caroline Dring
  12. Ali Sanders
  13. Jo Turvey
  14. Kate Mackenzie
  15. Rowan Carroll

Lightweight singles

  1. Nicky Dale
  2. Sarah Watts (under-23)
  3. Robyn Morris
  4. Naomi Ashcroft
  5. Jo Nitsch

Run 2 (4,000m

Doubles

  1. Gllian Lindsay/Lisa Eyre
  2. Caroline Dring/Libby Henshilwood
  3. Miriam Batten/Elise Laverick
  4. Ruth Rudkin/Alex Beaver
  5. Jo Nitsch/Robyn Morris (lightweight)

Pairs

  1. Cath Bishop/Jo Turvey
  2. Jo Davis/Katherine Grainger
  3. Nikki Wellings/Dodds

Openweight singles

  1. Sarah Winckless
  2. Dot Blackie
  3. C Smith
  4. Ali Sanders

Lightweight singles

  1. Nicky Dale
  2. Naomi Ashcroft
  3. Anna van Leemputten
  4. Mary Stevens (under-23)

2nd open assessment (15/16 February 1997)

This took place in Ely in the end.

Run 1

Pairs

  1. Jo Davis/Katherine Grainger
  2. Katrina Hastings/Claire Vincent (under-23)
  3. Sarah Welch/Nicole Scott (under-23)

Openweight singles

  1. Miriam Batten
  2. Dot Blackie
  3. Gillian Lindsay
  4. Elise Laverick (under-23)
  5. Libby Henshilwood (under-23)
  6. Charlotte Hill
  7. Sarah Springman
  8. Cath Bishop

Lightweight singles

  1. Nicky Dale
  2. Jo Nitsch
  3. Mary Stevens

Run 2

Doubles

  1. Miriam Batten/Elise Laverick
  2. Rowan Carroll (openweight)/Nicky Dale (lightweight)
  3. Caroline Dring/Libby Henshilwood
  4. Kate Mackenzie/Rachel Woolf
  5. Ali Sanders/Naomi Ashcroft (lightweight)

Pairs

  1. Cath Bishop/Dot Blackie
  2. Gillian Lindsay/Sue Walker
  3. Jo Davis/Katherine Grainger

Singles

  1. Sarah Springman
  2. C Smith
  3. Jo Nitsch (lightweight)
  4. Charlotte Hill
  5. Anna van Leemputten (lightweight)
  6. Tegwen Rooks
  7. Teresa Lain (lightweight)
  8. Malindi Myers (lightweight)

Run 3

Doubles

  1. Cath Bishop/Dot Blackie
  2. Gllian Lindsay/Sarah Springman
  3. Caroline Dring/Libby Henshilwood
  4. Jo Nitsch/Nicky Dale (lightweight)
  5. Claire Fox/Rowan Carroll
  6. Miriam Batten/Elise Laverick
  7. Mary Stevens/Naomi Ashcroft (lightweight)
  8. Charlotte Hill/Ali Sanders

Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (8 March 1997)

The Headship was won by Thames I. Elise Laverick, the 1996 under-23 Nations Cup bronze medallist, was the only member of the crew who wasn’t a senior GB international at the time.

b/w Women's eight with Thames blades

Thames 1: Suzie Ellis (cox), Ali Gill (stroke), Annamarie Stapleton, Rachel Woolf, Dot Blackie, Kate Mackenzie, Elise Laverick, Claire Davies, Alison Brownless. (Poto © John Shore.)

Lightweight open trial (22 March 1997)

This took place in Henley in singles. Documentation about it issued in advance stated that the winner would be invited to the April final trials, but it’s unclear who this was.

Scullers’ Head (5 April 1997)

Guin Batten, just back from her long training camp in Hong Kong, was e fastest women, finishing 32nd overall and setting a new women’s record of 21.32. Miriam Batten won the Senior I category in 22.11, four seconds ahead of Sue Appelboom who took the lightweight pennant.

Openweight trial (7 April 1997)

This trial for pairs and singles involved three 1k pieces, which suggests it took place in Peterborough. It followed a ‘openweight squad camp’ at Marlow after the Women’s Head which was designed to try out pairs combinations.

Cath Bishop and Dot Blackie were the fastest pair (and fastest overall), followed by Kate Mackenzie and Francesca Zino, and then Libby Henshilwood and Rachel Woolf.

Guin Batten was the fastest sculler, followed by Miriam Batten, Gillian Lindsay, Lisa Eyre, Elise Laverick (under-23), Tracy Langlands (lightweight), Alison Mowbray and Ali Sanders.

Final trials (11-13 April 1997)

These took place in Nottingham and had a full FISA regatta format with heats and repechages for openweight pairs and lightweight and openweight single sculls.

14 lightweight and 35 openweight women were invited to compete:

Lightweights

Naomi Ashcroft
Nicky Best
Sarah Birch
Nicky Dale
L Digby
Vic Fangen
Jane Hall
Teresa Lain
Anna van Leemputten
Robyn Morris
Malindi Myers
Jo Nitsch
Mary Stevens
Sarah Watts

Tracy Langlands and Caroline Hobson, who were later selected for the 1997 team were not invited to these trials.

Openweights (names listed here are only those who were full internationals in 1997 or before or after that year)

Guin Batten
Miriam Batten
Alex Beever
Cath Bishop
Dot Blackie
Rowan Carroll
Lisa Eyre
Claire Fox (under-23)
Katherine Grainger
Libby Henshilwood
Charlotte Hill
Elise Laverick
Gillian Lindsay
Kate Mackenzie
Tegwen Rooks
Ali Sanders
Sarah Springman
Alison Trickey (under-23)
Sue Walker
Sarah Winckless
Rachel Woolf (previously GB lightweight)

Francesca Zino, who was later selected, was not invited because she had not taken part in the trials to this point as she was rowing for Cambridge and was only invited into the GB senior squad later after competing at the under-23 Nations Cup.

These trials followed immediately by a week-long crew formation camp in Hazewinkel.

Lightweight pairs open trials (26-27 April 1997)

These were on the schedule but results have not been uncovered.

Leander admits women

On 27 April 1997, Leander Club voted to accept women for the first time in its 179 year history. Although former captain Duncan Crockford remembers that they made the choice simply because they felt it was the right thing to do, others feel that it was more than coincidental that, as Chris Dodd wrote in Regatta magazine, “By admitting women as members, Leander complies with the Sports Council’s requirement to modernise the club’s constitution to qualify for the £1.5 million grant from the Sports Lottery Fund towards the club’s £2.3 million development scheme.” In a statement isssued after the meeting, the club said, “Leander will continue to pursue its gold medal winning policy of focusing its competitive efforts on men’s heavyweight [sic] rowing,” and that its Lottery application would be on the basis that this would not be compromised.

Beryl Crockford was the first female full member of the club.

Summer racing

From 1990 to 1995, FISA had run a World Cup series of regattas for male and female single scullers. Those who did well at each event were given expenses towards future regattas, which had proved invaluable for Guin Batten.

No World Cup had been run in 1996 while the rowing world prepared for the Olympic Games, but the concept was relaunched in 1997 for each of the 14 Olympic events (eight men’s and six women’s).

Mike Spracklen’s strategy document set out that the first two World Cup competitions, at Munich and Paris, would be used as selection regattas, after which selected crews would gain race practice at the third World Cup regatta in Lucerne. Some members of the squad also took part in non-World Cup international regattas.

Cologne regatta (3-4 May 1997)

Guin Batten won on the Saturday. After clocking the second fastest time in qualifying (behind Maria Brandin of Sweden, who had been World Champion in 1995), Miles Forbes-Thomas wrote in Regatta magazine that in the final, “Guin had an excellent start and led the field showing a very confident sculling technique and race plan, allowing boats to come back at her during the race without being fazed by it and following her race plan through to the finish where she held off all her rivals to win from [Trine] Hansen [the Danish Olympic bronze medallist] by 1.33 seconds.”

On the Sunday, he continued, “Hansen set a blistering pace in the final which made Batten pay for a lacklustre start. Although the Thames sculler worked her way back through the field she left herself too much to do.” Guin finished second, 1.43 seconds behind Hansen with Sarah Springman sixth.

Jane Hall, for whom Cologne was her first international single sculls race, came last in her heat on the first day. “I made every mistake possible in that race. Tomorrow will be different,” she told Regatta, and indeed it was as she finish third in the final on the Sunday.

Ghent (10-11 May 1997)

As usual, the entry at Ghent regatta was mostly top British, Belgian, Dutch and French club crews rather than a truly international field.

Jane Hall won both open and lightweight singles on the Saturday with no time even to come off the water between the two finals but the tight turnaround was apparently no problem as her time in the second race, the lightweight event, was 10 seconds faster than the first. On the Sunday she won the lightweight event again and finished third in the openweight category.

World Cup 1: Munich (30 May-1 June 1997):

There were only two British entries in the Olympic boat classes that formed the World Cups.

Guin Batten finished fifth in the single sculls behind the Olympic champion Ekaterina Khodotovitch of Belarus, Trine Hansen, Maria Brandin, and double Olympian Romyana Neykova of Bulgaria, a creditable performance

In contrast, the quad of Miriam Batten, Gillian Lindsay, Dot Blackie and Cath Bishop, had somewhat of a disaster. They finished ninth out of ten, only three seconds ahead of the GB lightweight crew who were doubling up in the openweight event. Dot Blackie remembers, “It wasn’t great and Mike Spracklen was furious because we were meant to be his top boat and he’d rightly identified that the quad was rather a gap in the market.  But it wasn’t actually surprising in some ways because Cath and I had hardly done any sculling and we had no experience in anything other than singles, but I was really upset because I was the last person into the crew so I felt it was my fault.”

There were no GB entries in the openweight doubles, and the lightweight double of Robyn Morris and Jo Nitsch were unable to race when Robyn was injured in a collision during their warm up with a sculler who was in the wrong place.

Women sitting in grandstand

At Munich regatta. From left: Sue Walker, Jo Nitsch, Elise Laverick, Gillian Lindsay, Cath Bishop (front), Miriam Batten and Dot Blackie. (Photo: Dorothy Roberts’ personal collection.)

In the non-Olympic classes, there were also mixed fortunes – and amounts of opposition.

The four of Sue Walker, Kate Mackenzie, Alex Beever and Lisa Eyre won in a three-crew event in which the other two were both German, as did the lightweight quad of Nicky Dale. Tracy Langlands, Sarah Birch and Sarah Watts, who had just one other crew to beat, also from Germany.

two quads racing

The lightweight quad approach the line in the lead while presentation officials in national dress await in the foreground on the medal pontoon. (Photo: Sarah Ockendon’s personal collection.)

4women in huge t-shirts

Part of the concept of the World Cups was that winners would get t-shirts that they’d wear at subsequent regattas. Unfortunately, the organisers don’t seem to have realised what an approprate size would be for lightweight women. (Photo: Sarah Ockendon’s personal collection.)

Jane Hall came fifth in the lightweight singles with Teresa Lain 12th. Elise Laverick won the under-23 singles by over eight seconds.

Change of plan

After Munich, Dot and Cath decided with Mike Spracklen that they would be better off playing to their strengths and doing a pair. Miriam remembers, “When they told me that I thought, ‘Well I guess that leaves me and Gillian in a double then!'” and that’s what they did. “We trained with the pair all the time. Mike would set the pair go off first and we’d have to catch them up so we were always pushing each other which I think makes you really tough.”

The photos below show the crews them training at Longridge:

Pair and doublePairDouble

World Cup II: Paris (21-22 June 1997)

The top openweights’ decision to regroup in a double and a pair paid off when both boats finished second in their events.

Mike Rosewell wrote in The Times, “Dot Blackie and Cath Bishop… had their minds focused on the top Romanians but suffered a slow start. ‘The key to beating the Romanians was to get a good start and we failed,’ Blackie said. Nevertheless, from being fourth at 500 metres, the Britons overtook Australia and Belarus in a good second half and said. ‘We are still on a steep learning curve.'” He continued, “The same also applies to the double scull of Miriam Batten and Gillian Lindsay, who were second all the way. They put real pressure on Germany, the leaders, in the third 500 metres but faltered in the rough water approaching the finish.”

The double only missed the gold medal by 1.87 seconds, most of which they lost in the first 500m. Miriam remembers, “They were quite good Germans; Jurgen [Grobler, the GB men’s coach who had previously coached the East German women] was quite surprised!”

However, Rosewell went on, “Guin Batten… did not have a great weekend. Miles Forbes-Thomas, her coach, was not happy with the seeding procedure which saw Batten in a semi-final on Saturday in the company of three world championships medal-winners – Hansen from Denmark, Boron from Germany, and Khodotovitch from Belarus, the Olympic champion. ‘We ended up with a four and a two of the fastest scullers for the semis,’ Forbes-Thomas said. Batten finished fourth in her semi-final but made her point by winning the B final with sufficient leeway to ease up before the line and punch the air. ‘There was a cross Batten as well as a cross-wind out there,’ Forbes-Thomas said.”

The lightweights rearranged their crews around this time; there was no lightweight double entry in Paris but the lightweight quad won.

Henley Women’s Regatta (21-22 June 1997)

The GB senior squad didn’t enter Henley Women’s which suffered from bad weather.

Kath Grainger and Francesca Zino won the open pairs. They had only just started training together as an under-23 combination, and had been challenged by logistics as both were students but geographicallyfar apart at Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities.

Presentation of blue vase

Katherine Grainger and Francesca Zino being presented wit the Redgrave vase by Steve and Ann Redgrave. (Photo © John Shore.)

Retired internationals Ali Gill, Annamarie Stapleton, Claire Davies and Alison ‘Wilma’ Brownless won the Open Coxless Fours and Eights, teaming up with four women from Imperial College for the latter when they pulled off a crowd-pleasing row-through in the final over a Tideway Scullers crew.

Retired lightweight international Sue Appelboom won her eighth successive Lightweight Single Sculls title. Future international Rowan Carroll won the Open Single Sculls, but in a time only three second faster than Sue’s.

Holland Beker, Amsterdam (28029 June 1997)

The openweight four won comfortably on both days, beating Dutch and German national crews as well as domestic opposition.

Kate Mackenzie and Rachel Woolf raced in a pair.

Henley Royal Regatta (2-6 July 1997)

The Stewards purchased a silver trophy for the women’s single sculls, which had been added to the programme in 1993, and were given permission by the Queen to name it the Princess Royal Challenge Cup.

Maria Brandin won for the fourth time, beating Guin Batten in the final. This was Guin’s best result in the event (ever, as it turned out). Chris Dodd described in Regatta how the race was, “A titanic struggle between these two Atlanta Olympic finalists. Batten, behind, repeatedly attacked until she momentarily stopped just before the Mile and paddled home. Brandin was relieved… because she herself was pooped by then.”

Guin was the only British sculler to progress beyond the second round but Ruth Rudkin, Sarah Winckless and Ali Sanders all won their first races.

Geoffrey Page write in The Guardian that Guin’s win over Sarah in the second round was the subject of “some controversy”. He explained, “The sculls touched approaching the quarter mile, Winckless stopping briefly before resuming what had been a hopeless cause. She complained to the umpire that he had not warned the scullers before the clash but was told that she was behind and out of her water at the time, a view questioned by some in the umpire’s launch.”

World Cup III: Lucerne (11-13 July 1997)

The pair and the double both finished fourth in their events which had substantial entries, requiring semi-finals as well as heats and repechages. The medallists in the pairs were Romania, Canada and Australia, the latter finishing less than a second ahead of Cath and Dot. In the doubles Germany, Switzerland and Australia were the crews that finished in front of Miriam and Gillian.

The four, in which Libby Henshilwood had now replaced Kate Mackenzie, won by 2.91 seconds.

Both Guin Batten and the under-23 Else Laverick were entered in the single sculls, which also had a whopping entry of 28 scullers. Elise didn’t get through to the semi-finals, and although Guin did, she finished fourth, thus only qualifying for the B final which she didn’t race.

The lightweight quad of Nicky Dale, Jo Nitsch, Robyn Morris and Sarah Watts, was third in its five-crew straight final. Sarah Birch and Tracy Langlands who had proved themselves to be the fastest combination, were eighth in the lightweight doubles, and Jane Hall was sixth in the lightweight singles.

Five women's doubles racing

The lightweight double (nearest the camera). (Photo: Sarah Ockendon’s personal collection)

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Two lightweight pairs raced: Jo Davies and Malindi Myers were second, and Caroline Hobson and Anna Barclay third, also in a five-crew straight final.

Doubling up in an eight

After the under-23 Nations Cup had taken place in late July, trials were held for an ‘extra four’ who would double up with the GB coxless four into an eight for the World Championships. With only three entries in the eights at Lucerne, it seemed that many countries weren’t prioritising the boat that year and so it offered an opportunity for developing athletes to gain top-level experience.

The four selected were Katherine Grainger and Francesca Zino (who had won the pairs at the Nations Cup), Kate Mackenzie and former lightweight Rachel Woolf. As Katherine noted in her autobiography Dreams Do Come True, they were set the goal of coming within a length of the main four in a 2,000m piece at the end of a training camp in Nottingham which followed the trials. If they achieved this, the eight would be entered; if not, not.

The second four grasped the opportunity, and both Kate and Katherine did some great work in planning and preparing how they would race. For the first 1,500m they managed to stay right up with the other crew with the lead changing hands by small amounts several times, before the main GB four moved out to nearly a length’s lead in the last quarter. This, however, was enough for the eight to be sent to the Worlds.

Varese training camp (16-28 Aug 1997)

Guin Batten went to a final altitude camp in Silvretta with men at beginning of August where she had dramatically mixed weather, and then joined the rest of the GB women in Varese for their final preparations.

These went well for the lightweights, but the openweights’ training was more disrupted as Libby Henshilwood had a suspected stress fracture and Kate Mackenzie was ill with what turned out to be pleurisy. Eventually, Kate had to be sent home and was replaced in the eight by Elise Laverick, who had been the under-23 sculler at the Nations Cup. Katherine wrote later in her autobiography, “None of us would have had the opportunity to race that summer in the eight if [Kate] hadn’t been part of the toughest four back in Nottingham. She taught us all a little of what it was to have to walk away from a dream and do it with the head held high.”

Katherine subbed for Libby in the four for a few outings, while lightweight trialist Juliet Machan, who was living in Germany at the time, came over at weekends to sub in the eight.

women' eight on mirror-flat water

Reflections in Varese. From left: Suzie Ellis (cox), Lisa Eyre, Sue Walker, Cesca Zino, Katherine Grainger, Alex Beever, Elise Laverick, Rachel Woolf and Juliet Machan. (Photo: Dorothy Roberts’ personal collection.)

double scull on mirror-flat water

The lightweight double loving the fabulous water. (Photo: Sarah Ockendon’s personal collection.)

2 women relaxing on bench

Gillian (left) and Miriam in Varese. (Photo: Dorothy Roberts’ personal collection.)

Women sitting on steps waiting

Hanging around between outings outside the club in Varese. Back from left: Sarah Birch, Tracy Langlands, Robyn Morris. Middle: Sarah Watts, Elise Laverick. Front: Jo Nitsch, Juliet Machan, Rachel Woolf. (Photo © Dorothy Roberts.)

Final crews

Eight

B: Libby Henshilwood (University of London Women’s BC)
2: Rachel Woolf (Twickenham RC)
3: Elise Laverick (Thames RC)
4: Alex Beever (Oxford Brookes University BC)
5: Katherine Grainger (Edinburgh University BC)
6: Francesca Zino (Cambridge University Women’s BC)
7: Sue Walker (Marlow RC)
S: Lisa Eyre (Marlow RC)
Cox: Suzie Ellis (Thames RC)
Coach: Ron Needs

Coxless four

B: Sue Walker (Marlow RC)
2: Alex Beever (Marlow RC)
3: Libby Henshilwood (University of London Women’s BC)
S: Lisa Eyre (Marlow RC)
Coach: Ron Needs

Double scull

B: Gillian Lindsay (Marlow RC)
S: Miriam Batten (Thames RC)
Coach: Mike Spracklen

Coxles pair

B: Dot Blackie (Thames RC)
S: Cath Bishop* (Marlow RC)
Coach: Mike Spracklen

*Francesca Zino substituted for Cath in for the semi-final and final.

Single scull

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

Lightweight quadruple scull

B: Nicky Dale (Tideway Scullers’ School)
2: Jo Nitsch (Bedford RC)
3: Robyn Morris (Kingston RC)
S: Sarah Watts (University of London Women’s BC)
Coach:  Maurice Hayes

Lightweight double scull

B: Sarah Birch (Kingston RC)
S: Tracy Langlands (Thames RC)
Coach: Maurice Hayes

Lightweight coxless pair

B: Caroline Hobson (Thames Tradesmen’s RC)
S: Malindi Myers (University of London Women’s BC)
Coach: James MacLean

Lightweight single scull

Jane Hall (Kingston RC)

This was a first World Championships for eight out of the 22 rowers, which is a healthy mix of new blood and experience, particularly in a post-Olympic year.

At the Championships

Late on 31 August, the second day of racing, the British team heard the news that Diana, Princess of Wales had died in a car crash in Paris. Her funeral was on 6 September, the first day of the finals. After discussions, the team decided to race but wore black ribbons. Miriam Batten was quoted in The Sunday Times as saying, “It’s been such an emotional experience. We knew we were racing while the minute’s silence was being observed at home. We managed to put that out of our minds, and we had a wonderful race. But afterwards it all hit home to me. I couldn’t help but cry.”

On the water, the conditions were perfect.

Coxless four (1st out of 6)

In their straight final, the coxless four had a conservative start and were in fourth place after 500m. They moved up to second by half way and, as International Rowing Manager David Tanner described in the Almanack, then, “Rowed past the Romanians in the last quarter to produce a superb finish.”

This was the first British women’s openweight gold medal at a World Championships.

4 women with arms raised

World Champions! Sue, Alex, Libby and Lisa receive their medals. (Photo © Maggie Phillips.)

Double scull (2nd out of 13)

Miriam and Gillian got off to an excellent start by winning their heat by 6.19 seconds over the Australians who had beaten them in Lucerne. This put them straight through to the semi-final which they also won.

In the final, Mike Rosewell wrote in The Times, they, “Took longer to strike their rhythm than in their semi-final and were fourth initially”. But they overtook Switzerland (who had also beaten them in Lucerne) by half way, and squeezed past the Romanians right at the end to take silver after producing the fastest second half any crew in the race. Gillian was quoted in The Times a saying, “We knew we would get Romania some time in the race but not on the last stroke.”

Miriam wrote later, “By 1,500m I knew we had to lift early for the finish. 250m to go I pulled the hardest 40 strokes. My head was cloudy, the buoys had gone red [in the last 100m] yet my body knew what to do. Those hours and years of practice. The medal ceremony was happy.”

Grainy photo finish

The photo finish that showed Miriam and Gillian snatched silver by 0.07 seconds from Romania, 1.49 seconds behind Germany. (Source: Miriam Luke’s personal collection.)

2 smiling wome in GB kit with medal ribbons

Miriam (left) and Gillian return to the raft after their medal ceremony. Note the label ‘W2x92′ in their boat, showing that GB’s top women’s crew was rowing in a five-year old boat. (Photo: Dorothy Roberts’ personal collection.)

Each was later sent letter of congratulations from William Hague, then Leader of the Opposition.

Eight (3rd out of 8)

The eight’s final was the day after the coxless four had won. Katherine Grainger wrote later in her autobiography, “Lisa gave a fantastic talk about what was to come. Suzie gave us our best ever race visualisation. Ron even swore in his pre-race chat.”

250m after the start they were in last place but crucially, she says, Suzie ensured that they didn’t panic. They then overtook USA and Belarus and finally a fading Germany, eventually pulling clear by a decisive 2.72 seconds. This was the best ever result for a GB women’s eight at a World Championships or Olympic Games; the previous best had been fifth, and the last time that one had raced into a final had been in 1981. It was also the first time that individual British women had won medals in both events where they doubled up at a Championships.

Miriam Batten is full of praise for their coach Ron Needs’ contribution and says, “Ron had nurtured them and brought them together. He’d really blended it.”

The four became the first British women to win two World Championship medals at openweight and at the time of writing in 2020, this is the only occasion when any British woman had won two medals at a single Championships. Rachel Woolf, who had been a silver medallist in the lightweight four in 1995 became the first to medal at lightweight and then openweight (although Beryl Mitchell had achieved this the other way round in 1981 and 1985).

Lightweight pair (3rd out of 6)

The pair, which Chris Dodd described in The Guardian as having been, “Brought together late in the selection process,” held third place throughout their straight final and finished 5.65 seconds off the winners but a long way clear of the widely-spaced non-medal boats.

Lightweight quadruple scull (4th out of 7)

After qualifying for the final, the quad finished an agonising 1.69 seconds off the medals.

Lightweight single scull (5th out of 16)

After a slow start in the final, Jane went through the 500m marker in last place, but overtook the Argentinian before half way, and held fifth until the line.

Single scull (6th out of 16)

In her first round heat from which only the winner qualified directly for the semi-final, Guin finished third out of six behind Olympic Champion Ekaterina Khodotovitch of Belarus and Katrin Rutschow of Germany. She then got through to the semi-via the repechage by finishing second out of five, five seconds behind Maria Brandin of Sweden but a further five ahead of the third-placed sculler who was even further clear of the two that were eliminated. She then qualified for the A final by coming third in her semi.

Getting ready to go out to race the final, she remembers, was the last straw for her relationship with coach Miles Forbes-Thomas, which had been deteriorating since they’d been in Hong Kong earlier in the year. She’d found his coaching invaluable from 1994 to 1996, but reflects that her needs as an athlete had changed after the Atlanta Olympics, and his style no longer worked as well for her as it once had. Her sixth place finish was a backwards step after coming fifth in Atlanta, and this despite having had a better training environment (with more funding and three months with the fantastic facilities in Hong Kong). Something would have to change to get the results she wanted.

Coxless pair (7th out of 14)

Dot and Cath had an even more torrid time, although their Championships started very well when they won their heat. “Based on that performance we probably would have come third,” Cath says now, and Dot adds, “The best 30 strokes we probably ever rowed as a pair was on our pre-heat outing and was awesome!” Unfortunately Cath then went down with a virus, and Francesca Zino was drafted in from the eight to row with Dot in the semi-final and small final.

In the semi-final, Katherine Grainger wrote in her autobiography, “Dot and Cesca were in second or third position for most of the race with a reasonable margin over Denmark in the fourth position. But in the crucial last 500m they began to slip down the field. The cameras showed the boat moving to one side of the lane as Dot in her desperation applied more and more power. When the cameras swung back to the side view they were losing ground.” They finished fourth, relegating them to the B final which they won.

Dot later gave Francesca a bunch of white roses with a note that read, “Thanks, it was more than I could have asked for.” She later went down with the same bug that Cath had caught. “I just felt so ill on the flight home. Everyone else was hung over but I was sick as a dog,” she says, wryly. Cath reflects, “I don’t know whose position it was worse to be in, Dot’s or mine. Probably hers.” But it was terrible luck for both of them, particularly as all the other openweights wih whom they’d been training at Longridge had all medalled. “That was the worst thing – for everybody to get a medal except you when you’d done all the same work as them,” she adds.

Lightweight double scull (10th out of 14)

Sarah and Tracy finished fourth in the B final of their event, which was probably the most competitive of the lightweight categories because it was the only Olympic boat class.

“We were inexperienced at that level,” Sarah says, “So that result was about right for where we were then. We had moments of going better than that but they were generally moments rather than anything we could do consistently, though we did ‘click’ as a double, and we weren’t medal material and actually even coming seventh would have been a really good result for us.”

crowd with big screen showing racing

Watching Tracy and Sarah on the start on the big screen in Aiguebelette. (Photo: Sarah Ockendon’s personal collection.)

Roundup

Back at the beginning of the season, the goal that Sean Bowden had set out in his strategy for the entire women’s team (openweight and lightweight) was to get two to three boats into finals and win one medal. In the event, they far exceeded that with six boats racing into finals, and four medals (for the first time) despite the openweight pair suffering from Cath’s illness. It was a huge step on from the disappointments of the 1996 Olympic Games where only Guin had made the final, and was only the third time that Britain had won an openweight medal in the 24 years since women’s events were first included in the World Championships in 1974.

Miriam Batten remembers, “The results in Aiguebelette were really, really good. It built our confidence as a team, and it built Mike’s credibility.” She was also quoted later in Regatta as saying, “Mike’s coaching talent and dedication has transformed our squad.”

1997 was notable in being the first year that the openweights had won more medals than the lightweights (three to one). This was partly because of the step change in performance by the openweight squad, driven by their new financial and coaching support. But the lightweights were also in new era too, because of the change in focus to sculling from sweep (the four having been replaced by the quad). Over the eight years from 1997 onwards, the GB lightweight women would only win two sculling medals, although they medalled in the pair in each of the eight years that it was in the programme (from 1996 to 2003).

World Rowing Junior Championships (6-10 August 1997)

These took place at Hazewinkel in Belgium.

The Almanack notes that the ARA Chief Coach of the Juniors, Mark Banks, “Chose to concentrate on a smaller number of boats.”

Coxless pair (4th out of 10)

B: Frances Houghton (King’s School Canterbury BC)*
S: Isabel Walker (George Watson’s College BC)**
Coach: Mark Banks (ARA Chief Coach, Juniors)

As Frances and Isabel had won on the Saturday of Munich International Junior Regatta in May, there were “High hopes of a medal for the girls’ pair”, as the Almanack put it, so their fourth place was disappointing.

Coxless four (5th out of 10)

B: Victoria Pirie (Lady Eleanor Holles School BC)
2: Rosamund Carslake (Warwick BC)
3: Charlaine Kepinska (Headington School BC)
S: Kathryn Stewart (Headington School BC)
Coach: Cathy Partridge (Headington School BC)

* Denotes a previous participation in the World Junior Championships.

Nations Cup (25-27 July 1997)

These under-23 championships took place at the Idroscalo course in Milan.

Pair (1st out of 7)

B: Katherine Grainger (Edinburgh University BC)
S: Francesca Zino (Cambridge University Women’s BC)
Coach: Hamish Burrell

Kath and Cesca went through the 500m marker in third place, and then, as International Rowing Manager David Tanner described in Regatta magazine, “After lying in second place behind Russia at half way they moved away from the field in the third quarter to win by a convincing two lengths.” They were the first GB women’s openweight sweep crew to win a gold medal at a major international Championships.

A photo of them with ther medalled (incorrectly captioned as 1998) can be seen here.

Coxless four (4th out of 7)

B: Claire Vincent
2: Alison Andrews
3: Alison Trickey
S: Sarah Welch

The four finished an agonising 0.1 seconds off the medals. A photo of them going off the start can be seen here.

Lightweight single scull (5th out of 14)

Sarah Watts (University of London Women’s BC)

Sarah was also in the senior quad in 1997.

Double scull (6th out of 8)

B: Claire Fox (Kingston RC)
S: Victoria Fangen (Kingston RC)

Single scull (10th out of 18)

Elise Laverick (Thames RC)

After the Nations Cup, Elise was brought into the senior eight to replace the injured Kate Mackenzie.

Lightweight double scull (12th out of 14)

B: Mary Stevens (Kingston RC)
S: Kate Holton (Evesham RC)

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The photo at the top of this page shows the World Champion coxless four, and is © Maggie Phillips.

© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2020