The 2002 World Rowing Championships took place in Seville, Spain from 15-22 September. This was slightly later in the year than usual to avoid the peak of the Spanish summer heat.
67 openweight and 49 lightweight women’s boats took part from 38 countries, which was similar to recent non-Olympic years. These include the first ever entries from Paraguay (in the lightweight single) and El Salvador (in the lightweight quad).
2002 also saw the first World Rowing Adaptive Championships, which offered events for open and mixed crews only. There were no GB entries, however.
Coaching and squad formation
The main coaching structure for the GB women’s squad remained unchanged from that put in place the previous year for the whole of the Olympiad to 2004, with Marty Aitken overseeing the programme in his role as Chief Coach (Women and Lightweights), and Paul ‘Thommo’ Thompson as High Performance Coach (Women).
The squad used Eton’s new rowing lake at Dorney quite a lot, but the openweight women were mainly still based at Longridge near Marlow. There were also groups which included development athletes who trained on the Tideway, either out of Thames RC with Miles Forbes-Thomas or at the University of London boathouse with Pete Somerville. Frances Houghton and Debbie Flood (the 2001 openweight double) trained largely at Leander with Mark Banks for the first part of the year, although Frances also spent some of the winter in Seville were, according to Regatta magazine, she combined her hispanic studies course with sculling out of Labradores Club.
Of the 2001 team, Alex Beever decided to take a year out and Lisa Eyre retired later in the year after sustaining a back injury. Cath Bishop retired and joined the Foreign Office. This was a huge disappointment for her 2001 pairs partner Katherine Grainger, who wrote in her autobiography Dreams Do Come True, that when Cath broke the wholly unexpected news to her, “It was the end of the vision and dream we had had, and it wasn’t the way either of us had imagined…. the four-year plan I had built had come crashing down around me.” She continues, “There was no obvious option but for me to once again join the sculling team.”
On the plus side, 2000 Olympian Sarah Winckless was back after recovering from injury and over-training syndrome, but there was a clear need to recruit a lot of new talent. Identification weekends were organised. An article in Regatta by Chris Dodd recorded that, “There were 1000 applications for the first weekend from whom 30 were accepted, and half of those have been invited to the second session.” By the spring of 2002, a longer-term talent identification scheme had started to operate, led by Performance Development Director Peter Shakespear, who had been recruited from the hugely successful Australian Institute of Sport, and was supported now by Louise Kingsley. This became known as ‘World Class Start’, and later ‘Start’.
Having brought cross-country skiing at altitude to the winter training mix in the 2001 season, Aitken added cycling camps.
In the same article in Regatta, Aitken celebrated the fact that the established lightweight group were all continuing, saying, “They are the one group who did the full training from the start, showing the others the way.”
Winter racing and assessment
Initial assessment (20 October 2001)
These took place over 5km in Boston, Lincolnshire, barely a month after the World Championships. The fastest openweight scullers were:
- Guin Batten (21.13.2)
- Katherine Grainger (21.13.4)
- Alison Mowbray (21.16)
- Sarah Winckless (21.28)
- Lisa Eyre (21.33)
- Elise Laverick (21.41)
- Elizabeth Butler-Stoney (21.45)
- Rebecca Romero (21.53)
- Bev Gough (21.57)
- Ros Carslake (21.58)
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 for the senior team in 2002.
Head of the River Fours (10 November 2001)
A squad quad of Katherine Grainger, Rebecca Romero, Sarah Winckless and Elise Laverick was the fastest women’s crew.
Brtish Indoor Rowing Championships (18 November 2001)
Katherine Grainger clocked the fastest time of the day (6.35) by a British women, but this was only enough to get her the bronze medal in the open event behind overseas competitors. Rebecca Romero won Under-23 in 6.52, while Helen Casey took the Lightweight title in 7.05 and Naomi Ashcroft was the fastest Over-30 Lightweight in 7.11, a time which would have placed her third in Open Lightweight.
Lightweight single sculls long distance trial (16 December 2001)
This took place in Boston.
- Tracy Langlands: 20.22.57
- Helen Casey: 20.24.41
- Jo Nitsch: 20:30.99
- Sarah Birch: 20.45.17
- Tegwen Rooks: 20.53.45
- Ali Eastman: 20.59.35
- Helen Mangan: 21.03.46
- Naomi Ashcroft: 21.04.43
World Indoor Rowing Championships (21-15 February 2022)
As she wasn’t part of the squad and was therefore free to decide where she competed, Naomi Ashcroft travelled to Boston, USA to take part in the CRASH-Bs, where she was the second fastest masters woman and the fastest masters lightweight with a time of 7.15.
Ergo test (23 February 2002)
Meanwhile the results of a 2k test for squad members done at Dorney Lake were:
- Rebecca Romero: 6.55.0
- Alison Mowbray: 6.58.4
- Helen Casey: 7.02.9
- Jo Nitsch: 7.16.6
- Sarah Birch: 7.17.4
- Alison Eastman: 7.26.0
Women’s Eights Head (9 March 2002)
This was cancelled after crews had started boating due to worsening weather conditions. Mike Rosewell wrote in Regatta, that unsurprisingly, “Hot title favourites this year were a GB national squad crew strokes by… Katherine Grainger.”
Thames World Sculling Challenge (29 March 2002)
Amid more truly dreadful conditions on the Tideway, the only British competitor in the women’s event was Ali Gill after Guin Batten had to withdraw through injury. Ali finished fifth behind strong overseas entries.
Final trials (mid-April 2002)
Alison Mowbray’s autobiography Gold Medal Flapjack Silver Medal Life lists the results of the initial time trial in Hazewinkel:
- Frances Houghton (7.08.97)
- Alison Mowbray (7.13.80)
- Rebecca Romero (7.15.64)
- Katherine Grainger (7.15.66)
- Elise Laverick (7.18.29)
- Sarah Winckless (7.21.23)
- Debbie Flood (7.29.55)
- Ros Carslake (7.30.88)
- Kate Mackenzie (7.31.42)
The final results from the side-by-side finals have not been unearthed, although Alison notes that Frances and Debbie were first and second.
With the World Championships scheduled to take place a month later than their usual mid-August slot, the third World Cup regatta took place after Lucerne (the second), which was in its usual position in the rowing calendar the weekend after Henley Royal Regatta.
Duisburg regatta (18-19 May 2002)
Duisburg regatta filled the gap in the calendar before the World Cup races started, but not everyone seems to have raced there.
The new lightweight double combination of Helen Casey and Tracy Langlands won on both days, which Chris Dodd described in Regatta as a “real breakthrough”, as did the women’s lightweight quad of Alison Eastman, Tegwen Rooks, Jo Nitsch and Sarah Birch.
Frances Houghton won the women’s single sculls on the Sunday. Katherine Grainger and Alison Mowbray finished second on the Sunday in openweight doubles while Sarah Winckless and Elise Laverick came fourth in the same event.
World Cup I: Hazewinkel (14-16 June 2002)
In their first international race of the year, Frances and Debbie won the Double Sculls. Chris Dodd wrote in Regatta that they “Commanded the Lake” and “recaptured their magic”.
A four of Alison Barnes, Kate Mackenzie, Helen Fenhoulet and Nicole Scott came second, while a quad of Katherine Grainger, Elise Laverick, Alison Mowbray and Sarah Winckless, described by Chris Dodd in Regatta as “newly formed”, finished third in their event.
In the pairs, Bev Gough and Ros Carslake, who were both new to the team that year, were sixth with under-23s Sarah Martin and Sarah Waldron third in the B final. Rebecca Romero, who was returning from injury, came eighth in the single sculls.
Lightweight single Kirsten McClelland-Brooks and Helen and Tracy’s double were both second.
Henley Women’s Regatta (21-23 June 2002)
The only squad-related entries of note were Guin Batten, who retained her title in the Open Sculls, and Naomi Ashcroft, who won Lightweight Single Sculls. Although Naomi hadn’t been selected for any of the seven lightweight sculling positions, she was on a mission to show the squad coaches that she was fast enough to be considered for the lightweight pair. Hold that thought.
Henley Royal Regatta (3-7 July 2002)
Elise Laverick, Sarah Winckless, Katherine Grainger and Alison Mowbray recorded easily verdicts in all three rounds to become the first British crew to win the Women’s Quadruple Sculls event that had been added to the programme the previous year.
The Remenham Challenge Cup for women’s eights was won by a crew racing as Oxford Brookes, and containing former internationals Ali Gill, Alison Trickey, Libby Henshilwood, Alex Beever and cox Charlotte Hill, plus future international Carla Ashford. Ali Gill, who had last rowed for GB at the 1996 Olympic Games remembers that the crew was Alex’s brainchild. A member of the GB eight for the previous four years, Alex had been in the crew when it had the bruising experience of being beaten by the GB ‘small boats’ eight at Henley in 1999. Ali explains, “She identified that in 2002 the event was wide open because there a GB squad eight that would be in it. So we put an eight together with four women from Brookes who were young and the rest of us got on the ergo again and got training and we finally won Henley medals!”
World Cup II: Lucerne (12-14 July 2002)
Frances and Debbie won the double sculls again, which was the openweight team’s only medal this time. The quad came fifth, the four sixth, and Bev and Ros in the pair were eighth. Guin finished ninth and Rebecca 11th in the single sculls.
The lightweight squad did rather better. Kirsten McClelland-Brooks won the single sculls, the first British woman to achieve this at Lucerne, while Helen Mangan qualified for the C final of the same event but did not start. The quad of Tegwen Rooks, Ali Eastman (replacing Jane Hall, who was ill), Jo Nitsch and Sarah Birch also won, and Helen and Tracy came second in the double.
National Championships (19-21 July 2002)
The only GB senior squad crew that raced here was the now-selected lightweight pair of Naomi Ashcroft and Ali Eastman. Unfortunately for them, they were beaten by 0.69 seconds by Jo Ganley and Leonie Barron of Thames RC.
Retrials were hastily arranged, in the form of a pairs matrix on 27 July, from which Naomi and Leonie emerged the winners. Members of the openweight four also competed at these trials in a separate race to identify which two would be entered as GB 2 for the third World Cup regatta. The purpose of this exercise has not been unearthed, but Helen Fenhoulet and Kate Mackenzie were the two selected.
World Cup III: Munich (1-3 August 2002)
With Rebecca Romero now recovered from her injury and back to full fitness, the quad was “reshuffled”, as Mike Rosewell described it in Regatta. She was in and promoted to the stroke seat, while Elise was out. The new lineup finished third only 0.79 seconds off silver after crossing the line the wrong side of a three boat photo finish for places two to four.
The double came fourth and won their World Cup, while Bev and Ros eighth in the pairs with Helen and Kate 13th.
Guin was sixth in the singles with Elise 11th. Guin withdrew from the squad after this on medical advice as she’d developed a type of post-viral fatigue syndrome.
In the lightweight doubles, Helen and Tracy’s main rivals, the Germans, had to withdraw through illness. The British crew finished third, which was enough for them to win their World Cup – another first for a British crew in this event. The new lightweight pair won by 13 seconds, the lightweight quad (with Jane Hall back in the crew) was fourth and Kirsten McClelland-Brooks had to withdraw as she had been hospitalised with gastroenteritis.
Commonwealth Rowing Championships (17-24 August 2002)
The England team comprised development athletes, none of whom went on to represent GB at senior level, although the pair was the 2002 under-23 crew of Sarah Martin and Sarah Waldron.
Kirtsten McClelland-Brooks won the lightweight single sculls for Wales and also got the silver medal in the lightweight quads.
Pre-World Championships training camp (31 August-11 September 2002)
This was in Varese in Italy. Most of the time the conditions were idyllic, but heavy rain in the mountains meant that the lake had moved into the boathouse by the end of the camp.
B: Alison Mowbray (Leander Club)
2: Sarah Winckless (Walbrook and Royal Canoe Club)
3: Katherine Grainger (St Andrew BC)
S: Rebecca Romero (Kingston RC)
Coach: Paul Thompson
B: Frances Houghton (University of London Women’s BC)
S: Debbie Flood (Leander Club)
Coach: Mark Banks
B: Ros Carslake (Leander Club)
S: Bev Gough (Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association)
Coach: Miles Forbes-Thomas
Elise Laverick (Thames RC)
Coach: Paul Thompson
Lightweight quad scull
B: Tegwen Rooks (Tideway Scullers’ School)
2: Alison Eastman (University of London Women’s BC)
3: Jo Nitsch (Leander Club)
S: Sarah Birch (Kingston RC)
Coach: Paul Reedy
After losing her place in the lightweight pair, Alison, who had won the bronze medal in the lightweight singles at the World Under-23 Regatta the previous year, had returned to the quad she’d rowed in at Duisburg and Lucerne to replace Jane Hall who had by now been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
Lightweight double scull
B: Helen Casey (Wallingford RC)
S: Tracy Langlands (Leander Club)
Coaches: Marty Aitken and Marysh Chmiel
B: Naomi Ashcroft (Upper Thames RC)
S: Leonie Barron (Thames RC)
Coach: Pete Sudbury
Lightweight single scull
Kirsten McClelland-Brooks (Rebecca RC)
Coach: Damian Hammond
Elise Laverick (Thames RC)
At the World Championships
Lightweight pair (1st out of 4)
Naomi and Leonie had a dream of a race in their straight final but some nightmares during preparation.
After getting through the considerable challenge of racing at the World Cup regatta in Munich just a few days after they’d finally been put together through seat racing, they were on a steep learning curve through August and early September. Naomi pays credit to their coach, Pete Sudbury for his help with this. “Although our club coaches had got us selected, Pete got us the result and to manage two lightweight women who were at their first World Championships, was quite a feat, particularly in a lightweight pair which is a technically demanding boat to row,” she says. “By the time we were at the final pre-Championship straining camp in Varese, everything just came together and our times relative to the predicted gold medal times for our event were usually in the top five GB boats. So we weren’t going slowly.”
Once they were at the Championships venue in Seville, a final element of their training was to do a practice 2k piece in race kit exactly week before their straight final. Naomi remembers, “You’re given lanes to stick to, so the singles would have the outside lane, and pairs and doubles would be in the next lane. But the thing is a women’s lightweight pair is a lot slower than a men’s double, and there was a men’s double in the second lane so I checked the singles lane and saw that it was clear so decided we’d use that. Anyway, we got to 750m and the safety launch came up to us and said, ‘Great Britain move lanes, Great Britain move lanes,’ and I didn’t want to risk getting a false start in our race for having disobeyed the rules in practice, so I moved lanes. Unfortunately, Leonie’s blade caught on a buoy and I can remember she looked round at me as if to say, ‘My blade isn’t coming back.’ So one moment we were charging along at rate 34, and the next moent we found ourselves upside down with in the middle of the lake with crews coming towards us, having to be rescued. We had to go back and do our 2k piece in the evening.”
In the race itself, they led from the start and won by 11.3 seconds. In a FISA (now World Roing) media interview straight afterwards Leonie said, “We went out thinking that we’re not going to aim confidently at anything apart from having a really good row. If we row our best we should be able to win it, so, we went out with that in mind rather than thinking ‘How fast are they all?’”
Naomi reflects now, “It wasn’t the most exciting race I’ve ever been in but it was certainly the most terrified I’ve ever been because it was such an important event. But you try to disguise it and just smile at the opposition and we just had to pull it together. Once we were rowing, it was all about rhythm. We got that and the speed came.”
This was Great Britain’s third successive win in the event with three different crews.
Lightweight double scull (3rd out of 18)
Helen and Tracy won their heat, which put them straight through to the semi-final, where they came second. In the final they held third place through all the interim timing points, finishing 1.72 seconds off silver and 2.37 seconds clear of fourth place.
Although Britain had a good track record in this event starting with Lin Clark and Beryl Crockford’s historic win in 1985, the first year it was included in the World Championships programme, Helen and Tracy’s bronze was the first GB medal since it became an Olympic event in 1996. This, then, was an important step on the road to the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, particularly as we hadn’t qualified a boat in the class in the two games for which it had been included in the programme.
Double scull (4th out of 11)
Debbie and Frances finished second in their heat, 4.54 seconds behind the Evers-Swindell sisters from New Zealand. This put them into the repechage, which they won, qualifying them from the A final. They passed through the first 500m marked in fourth place, dropped back to fifth for the next two timing points, and then overtook France in the final 500m to finish fourth. It was a step up from their seventh place the previous year, but Chris Dodd described this result in Regatta magazine as, “A disappointment, after a brilliant season and good progress to the final.”
The video below shows their final.
A picture of them, taken from the mid-course overhead bridge, can be seen here.
This photo highlights how rough the conditions were in during the final.
Quad scull (5th out of 10)
The quad qualified for the A final by finishing second in their repechage after coming third in their heat.
Katherine Grainger described the end of the crew’s repechage in her autobiography, “We were leading the race comfortably until in the last few hundred metres it suddenly felt a if as had hit something… I looked down to see an oar alongside the boat… and I looked up through the confusion to see the backs of the crews behind us fast approaching.” Fortunately, they managed to cross the line and qualify for the final; later, it emerged that it was Alison Mowbray who had caught a crab by, she explained, hitting a fish. The Guadalquivir river on which the Seville course is situated is a natural river and not a ‘swimming pool’; fish live there.
Sarah Winckless explains how other conditions worked against them in the final where they finished 2.03 seconds off the bronzed medal. “Guttingly, there was a massive wind shadow over part of the course for the final and we were in an unfavoured lane,” she says, “And you can tell how bad it was because we beat the Ukrainian crew, who were in an even worse lane. We came fifth and they were sixth. If you’d told me beforehand that we were going to beat them, I’d have said we’d have had to win because they were were flying that year.
A photo of the quad racing can be seen here.
Lightweight quad scull (5th out of 8)
The lightweight quad came third in their heat, but reached the A final by finishing fourth in their repechage. They passed through the first three timing points in last place, before overtaking Italy in the final 500m to claim fifth position, just under seven seconds off bronze.
A photo of them racing can be seen here.
Single scull (7th out of 15)
Elise finished second in her heat behind the reigning Olympic silver medallist, Rumyana Neykova of Bulgaria. This put her straight into the semi-final where she finished fifth, just over eight seconds off qualifying for the A final. She went on to win the B final, beating the Spanish sculler, Nuria Dominguez Asensio who had finished ahead of her in the semi, by 0.12 seconds.
A photo of Elise racing in Seville can be seen here.
Lightweight single scull (11th out of 19)
After her seriously impressive win at the third World Cup regatta in Lucerne, Kirsten’s season had gone downhill with illness. She’d had to scratch from the fourth World Cup regatta, although she raced at the Commonwealth Regatta to get herself back into racing after that. However, as she’d discovered in 1999 when she’d also been the GB lightweight single sculler, she found changing her routine to fit in with the rest of the team’s schedule hard at the final training camp and the World Championships themselves, and by her own admission was not on form.
Her second place in her heat put her into the repechage from which she qualified for the semi-final by finishing second again. In the semi, though she could only finish sixth and then came fifth in the B final.
Pair (13th out of 17)
Bev and Ros finished fifth in their heat and then fourth in their repechage. This put them into the C final, which they won. A photo of them racing can be seen here.
This was the second year running that the openweight team had returned without medals. It was not a good place to be half way through an Olympiad.
As well as the present not going to plan, there wasn’t much preparation for the future beyond the next Olympics either. Although the need to start bringing the next generation of athletes into the openweight team had been identified, the lack of an eight or even a four meant that Bev Gough and Ros Carslake were the only new caps this year. Both women had come up through the traditional junior and under-23 pathways. Both had been in the GB Junior team in 1997; Ros then won the Under-23 pairs with Rebecca Romero in 2000 and raced in the four at the fourth World Cup regatta in 2001, while Bev was in the Under-23 four in 2001 as well as making a brief appearance in the eight at the first World Cup regatta that year. In the end, there were no further recruits who made it to the World Championships or Olympic Games in 2003 or 2004, not least because there was no eight in those years either.
Katherine Grainger, described her quad’s fifth place in 2002 as “Another disappointment,” in her autobiography, and went on, “The Sydney Games had proved British women could compete with the best in the world and stand on the podium and it was disappointing for everyone to be falling just short. Thommo hadn’t made the move to Britain from his success in Australia for this; I hadn’t continued after Sydney to get worse results; and the rest of the team didn’t spend hours every day pushing themselves to their limit in oder to just make a final. Something had to change.”
For Katherine, that something would be Cath Bishop coming out of retirement.
World Rowing Junior Championships
These took place in Trakai, Lithuania, from 6-10 August 2002.
Quadruple scull (8th out of 19)
B: Jo Cook (Lady Eleanor Holles School BC)**
2: Alison Stubbings (Headington School BC)
3: Jess Eddie (Durham ARC)*
S: Natasha Page (Gloucester RC)*
Coach: Andy Green
Chris Dodd wrote in Regatta magazine that the crew, “Were unlucky not to have been in the A final after copping a really hard semi-final. They had started out as the leading medal prospect among the British women with [three of the crew] all being members of last year’s team.”
A photo of them racing can be seen here.
Coxless four (4th out of 9)
B: Rebecca Bate (Headington Shool BC)
2: Lucy Buglass (Aberdeen Schools RA)
3: Henrietta Greene (Headington School BC)
S: Hannah Faux (Headington Schoool BC)
Coach: Eve Singfield
* Indicates a previous participation at the World Rowing Junior Championships.
World Under-23 Regatta
This took place in Genoa, Italy, from 26-28 July 2002.
Double scull (12th out of 12)
B: Kathryn Stewart (University of London Women’s BC)*
S: Lizzie Crichton (Universty of London Women’s BC)
Coach: Pete Somerville
* Indicates a previous participation at the World Under-23 Regatta.
Pair (5th out of 6)
B: Sarah Waldron (University of Oxford Women’s BC)
S: Sarah Martin (University of Oxford Women’s BC)
Coach: Ian Shore
Lightweight double scull (11th out of 13)
B: Louise Collins (Notingham Britania BC)
S: Sarah Ledwidge (University of London Women’s BC)
Coach: Pete Somerville
© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2022.