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australian rowers profiles and history

D Ian Allen

Albert Park Rowing Club (VIC), Yarra Yarra Rowing Club (VIC),  Alan Mitchell Rowing Club (VIC) and later Banks Rowing Club (VIC)

1954 - APS Head of the River - Wesley College first crew four seat - Fifth
1955 - APS Head of the River, Wesley College first crew six seat - Equal second
1956 - Olympic Games – Men’s Coxed Four stroke - Fourth

Ian commenced rowing at Wesley College and raced in its first crews in 1954 and 1955. In his second year in the first crew, six members of the 1954 crew returned and the crew rowed in club races winning maiden eights at Ballarat, Geelong and Henley. Racing in club events was unusual at that time and they may have the first crew to do so. The 1955 crew dead heated with Scotch for second place. Peter Guest (older brother of Paul and member of 1960 team), rowed 6 in the 1954 Wesley crew and stroke in the 1955 crew. Graeme McCall, later Australian rower, rowed 6 in the Scotch crew opposite Ian in the 6 seat of the Wesley crew.)

Bob Duncan in his book Small boat rowers of the fifties, self published in 2015, commented on Ian as follows: Ian Allen was only 18 and in his first year at our club, having graduated from Wesley College at the end of 1955. With experience of having rowed in their Head of River firsts crew for two years, he was a rare "great find" for our club. That Wesley crew was the first of the school crews to row in club regattas, starting a trend, which has become a major feature of Victorian rowing. Ian was one of the very best "ready-to-row" recruits we had ever attracted. In his 6 months of competing for our club, he had recorded many wins in events contributing to our Junior Premiership. Being a well proportioned 6'2" and 13 stone and passionate about success made him perfectly credentialed for the stroke seat. 

1956 Olympic coxed four with Ian second from the right

Ian joined Albert Park after leaving school at end of 1955 and rowed junior races during remainder of that season. He rowed in one senior 8 race in composite crew stroked by Neville Howell. 

Selection system for 1956 Olympics was the winner of the eight and scull at the Interstate Championships. Other selection were based on test races to be held in September at Ballarat. The expectation was that defeated state eights would be broken up and compete in the other boat classes. 

Ian tells the story of the selection of his four as follows: Three junior rowers at Albert Park decided to try for selection in a coxed four. Kevin McMahon (aged 17), Reg Libbis (aged 23), and myself (aged 18). Fred (Mick) Easton had coached the junior crews at Albert Park and was coach. Mick was 70 and had rowed for Tasmania in early 1900s and was a regular coach at Albert Park. We had to find a fourth rower for the bow seat and asked a number of people. Eventually Gordon Cowie (Corio Bay member but working in Melbourne and rowing with Hawthorn) was suggested and agreed. We also needed a cox and John Jenkinson from Yarra Yarra (age 14) agreed to join the crew. We rowed from the Yarra Yarra club for longer rows on the river than would be possible on Albert Park Lake, and wanted to be dark horses in the test race. We trained on the Lower Yarra and when near the sheds rowed badly so no one would expect us to be serious rivals. Two weeks before the test races at Ballarat there were practice races on the Yarra. We unexpectedly won the coxed four beating a State 4 that had been selected and a strong crew from MUBC. Selection races were held at Ballarat and we won heat, semi-final and final and were selected.  The coach of the coxed 4 was to be nominal coach of crews other than the eight so Mick was nominally coach for the team. In all these races we had fast starts and led fairly comfortably from the start which in addition to our inexperience led to problems at the Olympics because we had no experience in coming from behind.

Ian described his Olympic racing in the following clear terms: In the Olympics we rowed against US in the heat and several other crews.  First and second went on to the semi-final and we simply rowed beside the US without worrying about place.  They won but it wasn’t really a race. In the Semi we did our normal fast start but were a length behind a crew from Italy.  We couldn’t catch them and came second. This was the only time another crew had been faster than us at the start.  That qualified us for the final but we spent a lot of time thinking about tactics. Should we try for a win or for a place, but eventually decided to go all out for a win.  We started rating 48 which was considerably higher rating than we had ever done in training or in any races.  We led for the first 1000 but eventually Italy got past us. The fast start had probably been too much for us and we were passed at 1500 by Sweden.  At the end we were announced as third, but were moved to fourth after a photograph. So no medal.

Post Olympic Games - Our first race after the Olympic event was on the same day as the closing ceremony at the Olympics.  It was The Festival of Tasmania International Rowing Regatta in Launceston. We decided to go, and rowed against the Canadian four that had won the coxless four at the Olympics by five lengths. We beat them which gave us a bit more confidence after being beaten in Ballarat.

We won the State championship four in 1956 as an Albert Park crew with Don Christie from Albert Park replacing Gordon Cowie and John Cockbill replacing John Jenkinson as cox.  I rowed with Don Christie in a pair beating Bob Duncan and Bruce Dickson (the Olympic coxed pair) in a race just after they won the state pair championship at Nagambie.  I didn’t row in the Victorian State 8 championship because of a clash with deferred university exams. Albert Park were beaten in that race by Mercantile. (Interesting that the State 8 selected after that race in early 1957 did not include any Albert Park rowers despite having five Olympians and winning state pair and four races. 

Rowed with Albert Park for 1957 but transferred to Yarra Yarra in the 1957-1958 season.  Rowed in various races in pairs, fours and eights but had problems getting cramps in left leg, possibly due to minor childhood minor polio episode. This meant that didn’t try for selection for Empire Games in Cardiff in 1958 or Rome Olympics in 1960.  I pulled out of rowing in 1958 but did some more rowing with Yarra Yarra in 1961 and 1962. Went overseas to US in 1967 for post graduate study at Berkeley and later University appointments at Simon Fraser in British Columbia. Returned to Victoria in 1979.

Masters Rowing - Returned to rowing with Collegians (since renamed as Alan Mitchell Club) in 1993.  Rowed with Collegians at the World Masters Games in Brisbane in 1994.  Won an E4 but can’t remember about others.  In 1995 we went as a four to the FISA World Masters at Lake Bled where we won three races—D4, E4, (Crews included John Henshaw, Dennis Millikan and Paul Guest) and D8 (combining with a group from Corio Bay).  After that transferred to Banks Rowing Club and kept rowing with that club until 2005.  I can’t remember all the details but we had a very good group for Masters rowing including Dennis and John who had transferred with me from Collegians, plus other Olympians, Paul Guest, Brian Vear, Jim Lowe and Chris Shinners. So we won a lot of our races. After Bled we went to a FISA World Masters Championship in Seville.  We competed at the FISA World Masters in Adelaide, and were at the World Masters Games rowing regatta at Ballarat in 2002. I have no idea how many Victorian or Australian Masters races we won but we had a good record. In the World Masters events I can’t remember all the details but think I was in fours and eights that won 15 to 17 world gold medals. 

There is an interesting anecdote about the Ballarat regatta. I was working with Brian Vear in organizing that event and we tried to promote it as a reunion for the 1956 Olympic regatta.  There wasn’t a huge response from international crews but the 1956 crew from Japan came with family members in a group of about 30.  Four of the eight actually competed in a G8 at the regatta. The cox had recently died but his wife came and scattered his ashes in the lake. They also bought a symbolic gift of Japanese cherry trees to donate to the Ballarat gardens beside the lake. The 56 Olympic participation was obviously very significant for this group so soon after the war.

I kept rowing with Banks until 2005 and my final races were at the Australian Masters in Rockhampton in that year. I managed to find a website with results for that event and appear to have won in the F4, G4, and G8. After that I went to work in Saudi Arabia to help with their university accreditation system. I planned to return and compete in the 2008 Australian Masters but found I had heart problems and had to stop rowing altogether. 

Racing successfully in 2004 at the Australian Masters Championships with Banks - Ian in the three seat

Compiled from Ian's recollection in May 2020
Andrew Guerin


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