The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Janousek’s wake-up call has echoes for Grobler

Posted by rowingvoice on June 16, 2012

Some in the sunshine on the aquamarine waters of the Oberschleissheim course at the world cup in Munich may be transported back 40 years. As British crews head for another win in the World Cup before doing battle at London 2012, it is a sobering thought that the highest place reached by a GB crew at the Munich Olympics of 1972 was fifth.

This was achieved by the double scullers Patrick Delafield and Tim Crooks. They were the only British crew to reach an A final. Next best was the Thames Tradesmen four of Mason, Clark, Robertson and Smallbone who won the B final. Cambridge oarsmen Mike Hart and David Maxwell, coxed by Alan Inns, finished eighth, Ken Dwan of Poplar was ninth in the single, and a coxed four from Tideway Scullers ranked tenth. There was no eight entered.  And of course, no women (they joined the Olympic regatta in 1976).

The coach presiding over this was Bob Janousek, the Czech who was appointed Britain’s first national coach in the autumn of 1969. Munich was not his first Olympics – he had won medals in 1960 and 1964 and taken Czech crews to Mexico City.

His first task in Britain was to write a coaching scheme. Britain’s international rowing was weak and the selectors incapable of forming successful teams. In 1970 and 1971 British blades did not trouble the water in A finals. By October 1971 a new selection board had been formed with members serving six years with a rolling electoral system, giving continuity.  Janousek formed a squad of 60 and eventually whittled it down to 18. It was a disciplined system — nobody who dropped out to go to the cinema was allowed back in. The best hope at the start of the season might have been the Tideway Scullers eight, but its selection would have meant putting most eggs in one basket, so selectors and chief coach decided on a spread bet.

In the run-up to Munich, wrote John Rodda in the Guardian, Janousek had ‘put spunk and fibre back into the sport at a national level.’ But the result in Oberschleissheim was disappointing. Disappointing enough to make the coach contemplate his future as the stands emptied, the anthems died down and the boats left the trailer park. He may have given the ARA coaching education and raised the hopes of clubs throughout the land, but results he had none. Although being chief coach and a voice in the selectors’ ear, he wasn’t able to apply his knowledge of coaching directly.

Why? Because there was no national squad.

The 1973 European championships was another British disaster, except that Chris Baillieu and Mike Hart broke into the medals with a bronze in the double sculls. Nobody else reached finals.

Bob made up his mind. He sought the support of the selection board, the chairman of which progressed from Dave Parry to Mike Sweeney, to form a small national squad by invitation only and coach them personally to mount an assault on the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Hart and Baillieu were included. Janousek was soon, day in, day out, presiding over the most exciting in the world.

Medals came in 1974 and 1976, Britain was back on the world and Olympic medal podium, and the new system endured. It changed selection and training in Britain, and re-drew the social map of rowing besides.

The full story is told in my book Pieces of Eight ( Meanwhile, suffice it to say that the footnote to Janousek’s achievement is that the current place in the sun for Britain’s rowers can be traced from the changes that Bob Janousek wrought.

Janousek’s week of decision was not the only item of significance at the Munich Olympics. An unknown sculler from Magdeburg, Wolfgang Güldenpfennig, won the bronze medal for singles. This came as a surprise to the mighty German Democratic Republic’s obergruppenfürhrers, partly because Goldenpenny was the protégé of an unknown coach, name of Jürgen Grobler.

Grobler chose coaching as a career because it was the next best opportunity for foreign travel if you lived in the anally retentive police state of East Germany after his first desire, that of becoming a TV cameraman. A waiting list for cameraman courses propelled him into coaching proficiency and its accompanying exemption from military service. (The text of Grobler’s coaching education course was the starting point of Janousek’s revision to suit rowers on the western side of the iron curtain that also drew much from West Germany’s Karl Adam).

Nothing, presumably, was further from Jurgen’s thoughts that he would revisit Oberschleissheim 40 years later under the auspices of obergruppenfürhrer David Tanner, at the head of the world’s strongest men’s team sporting red, white and blue instead of red, black and gold. Or that he would be poised to maintain his record of coaching medals at every Olympic games he has attended.

Nor, for that matter, did Bob Janousek have a clue in 1972 about what he was about to put in train. You read it here first!

Christopher Dodd


3 Responses to “Janousek’s wake-up call has echoes for Grobler”

  1. Kenton Sanmogan said

    Interesting. However, first paragraph states “Munich Olympics of 1976” but I think you mean 1972.

  2. Thanks Kenton – and Patrick Kidd, and Chris himself. All of you pointed it out but I couldn’t get a secure enough connection to fix it, until now. Lucky we have such careful readers. RQ.

  3. Sadahatama Oba Mage

    Janousek’s wake-up call has echoes for Grobler « rowingvoice

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