The Perpetual British Indoor Rowing Championships 1998 kicked off with an avalanche of records falling, both championship and British, plus one world record. Although to the spectators this may have seemed to be a "catching up" caused by the growing popularity of indoor rowing amongst the older competitors, over half the records broken were for those under 40 years old.
Among indoor rowing juniors, the strength and commitment of Beth Rodford from Gloucester RC is noteworthy. She has broken records every year on her way up the age rankings, and now she duly added the Women's J15 title to her list, not only cracking the previous championship record by a quarter of a minute, but carving eight seconds of her time at last year's BIRC. Last year's sensation Debbie Flood, from Tideway Scullers, took the Under-23 title this November, but her achievement was overshadowed by Frances Houghton of UL, who was still able to compete in the J18 category and not only broke that CR but also beat Debbie by four seconds today, taking away her Women's 13-18 British record. Meanwhile the men's J18 championship records both fell, Ali Brown of Leander also shaving a second off the Men's lightweight 13-18 time.
All the usual suspects were out for the veteran categories, ex-Cambridge oarsman and rugby international Andy Ripley scaring the life out of the 50-59 age-group in his first year of joining it, lowering that BIRC record to 6:13.8. Sean Morris of Wallingford did not disappoint in the parallel lightweight group, equalling his own personal best last year. Most notable was Herbert Leah of Cheadle Hume, who broke the world indoor record for the 70-79 men's lightweight age-group by a distance, and also beat the heavyweight time here today by forty seconds. Pauline Rayner of Thames was in fine form, bringing the British women's 50-59 record down to 7:47.3, while Su Larcombe, also moving up an age-group, "did a Ripley" and chopped half a minute off the women's 40-49 time.
Several of the men's categories were stages for university machoism, the Oxford and Cambridge squads fighting with UL for trophies in the lightweight (and BUSA) race. The two Men's Under-23 races were hit by continual false starts, to the point where the race scrutineer finally lost patience and ordained that the next to jinx would be out. A perfect start resulted, and Martin Crotty, now of Oxford, took the Men's U23 title with a new BIRC record. In the better-behaved Women's lightweight open category, Helen Casey of Wallingford broke a two-year-old championship record while winning her gold medal.
The GB squad members competing were struck by seasonal colds and coughs, leading several including Guin Batten to withdraw, but fantastic displays of power were still on show from some of this year's international stars. World Champion Cath Bishop kicked off the Open proceedings by breaking her own championship and British records and, egged on by pairs partner Dot Blackie yelling beside her, brought her time down to 6:36.7, now within a sniff of the world's best indoor women rowers. Tammy-Marie Baker, aka "Fox" from Gladiators, rolled in a 7:37.3 score behind her, and then had to go and present the medals in a busy day.
Steve Redgrave was pushed hard by Colin Greenaway in the Men's 30-39 race, but sticking to a relatively low-thirties rate, Redgrave started to open a difference in split times at 600 metres gone, and from then became uncatchable, constantly moving 0.5 second per split faster than his rival. A finish of 5:51.1 was not good enough to break his own personal best, but easily set a new age-group BIRC record, and satisfied his fans.
The final race of the day, Men's Open, included a particularly good sport, Steve Mautone, goalkeeper of Reading Football Club. Raising money by sponsorship for the Downs Syndrome Association (his nephew is a Down's boy), he pulled a valiant 6:41.6 in the first heat of the MO race. The second heat had the big names: James Cracknell taking on Greg Searle, with Ed Coode and Graham Smith snapping at their heels. There was a slight distraction while the press table collapsed off the podium just before the start, but the competitors held their cool, and started first time to much cheering. 700 metres from the start Searle started to nudge ahead, and while third and fourth places swapped rapidly behind them, he and Cracknell steadily moved out of reach. But with another hard push between 850 metres out, Greg copied Redgrave's tactic and started to hold a consistently lower split than his opponent, which by the last minute had him an unassailable four seconds ahead. Chris Baillieu, commentating, urged the crowd to encourage him, but despite foot-stomping and enthusiastic applause from the large audience, Searle was unable to crack his own British record, finishing in a time three seconds outside, though clearly today's winner, while Cracknell almost matched Steve Redgrave's time.
Full results were meant to be on the Concept II UK website from as early as possible on Monday 23rd November, but there is a list of winners on the Rowing Service.
Credit for the pictures featured above goes to John H. Shore, one of the most experienced and expert rowing photographers in the UK. He is picture editor for Regatta Magazine and takes snaps at many rowing events, large and small. John can be contacted via 11 Jessamy Road, Weybridge, Surrey, and the BIRC photographs on the Rowing Service are copyright to him and not to be reproduced in any way.