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Frances Cryan speaks with Des Smyth

Frances Cryan, the Great Irish Hope of Rowing, is one of the most unassuming people I know. She knows practically everyone in and around Carrick-on-Shannon and it's surrounds personally and never fails to speak and greet the many whom she encounters. Pleasant, good-humoured and attractive, Frances brought many honours to her country, county, town and her club, yet when the big chance came, she was denied a place in the Los Angeles Olympics, where she stood an excellent chance of bringing home a medal. Eight people, one of whom she had beaten time and time again on the water, decided her fate. Others on that selection committee were what one would call city slickers, who had little time for a small struggling club. The blunder they made is considered one of the greatest made in Irish sport. Some of the eight had shown scant respect for Carrick R.C. and possibly that 'green eyed monster' was in the background. When one sees the lack-luster performances of some of the athletes in other sports at the Olympics, when they fail even in the qualifying heats, it makes it even harder to understand their action. Now married, and running a high class and successful restaurant, Frances, though still in her prime, has abandoned competitive rowing. She still rows for exercise and for the sheer pleasure of the sport she gave so much to. In that marvellous combination of Cryan and Nangle, her coach, together with the remainder of her mentors and helpers, Gabriel Cox, Sonny Moran and with the full backing and facilities of her club, she was more than worthy of a crack at an Olympic Medal. Here she speaks freely of her career, with it's ups and down. I started by asking her when she first became interested in rowing, to which she replied:

Frances: I first became interested in rowing in 1974. I joined the Carrick-on-Shannon Club in 1974 with three friends, Finola Armstrong, Geraldine Talbot and Angela Murphy. We trained and raced together as a school girl's coxed four until 1976. Then I started single sculling in 1976 until around 1986/'87.

Q. Who was your trainer then?

Frances: Aidan Nangle.

Q. Did he train you throughout your career?

Frances: Yes. Aidan coached me at all levels, and he got an excellent, experienced weight trainer, Sonny Moran, to train and supervise me at weight training.

Q. I understand that Carrick Rowing Club didn't have a schoolgirls crew then. Is that correct?

Frances: No, when I started rowing , it was in a school girl's four and in 1974/'75. But before we started, Aidan had coached other schoolgirls crews.

Q. What did you do for competition?

Frances: We raced at all the Irish Regattas, competing against adult women, most of the time very successfully.

Q. Tell me about Nottingham and Bedford and how you got on there?

Frances: We went to Bedford Regatta as a schoolgirls 4+ and won the Gold Medal in 1975. I competed in Nottingham in the Single Sculls many times, winning Gold and Silver medals.

Q. When did you first win the Irish Women's Senior Championship and where?

Frances: I won the first Irish Women's Senior Single Sculls Championship in 1976 in Craigavon, Northern Ireland.

Q. How long did you remain Champion?

Frances: I remained Champion for the next eleven years from 1976 to 1986.

Q. When did the question of entering you at the Moscow Olympics arise?

Frances: Around 1979, I competed at the International Regattas in Europe and my first World Championship in Bled, Yugoslavia, so after that season, we were planning and hoping to compete at Moscow.

Q. Tell me about your preparations for these Olympics, hours rowing, weights and running?

Frances: My preparations for the 1980 Olympics started in October 1979. I trained 7 days a week, and about 5 to 6 hours every day. My training consisted of long distances rowing, road running, weight training for strength and stamina, with gym training and cycling.

Q. Great hopes were pinned on you in Moscow and you almost made it into the final. By how much were you pipped out of the final?

Frances: I was pipped by 16/100 of a second out of the final, a distance of two centimetres.

Q. Explain Frances, to our readers how that result ranked you 7th in the world?

Frances: The first six were in the final and the second six raced in the Petit Final. As I was the winner of the Petit Final, this ranked me 7th.

Q. Did you enjoy Moscow?

Frances: I enjoyed Moscow immensely, it was a terrific experience in many ways, between competing with the best in the world in my own sport, and living in the Olympic Village and mingling with some of the great athletes of the world of that time such as Steveson of Cuba - boxer, Coe, Ovett, 'Yiggter and Shifter', Walker, Daley Thomson etc.

Q. The Moscowvites aren't particularly friendly, I was there myself, how did they treat the Irish team in general?

Frances: During the Olympic Games, the Moscowvites and everyone concerned with the games were extremely friendly and helpful. There was a great atmosphere there. Every morning I got up, there was a gift outside my room door from different Russian sponsors such as sweets, souvenirs, make-up etc.

Q. After Moscow, you started preparing for Los Angeles?

Frances: Yes.

Q. Was it the same type of training as for Moscow?

Frances: Yes, but Aidan sent me to different training camps in England, he employed some top International Coaches and brought them to Carrick just to confirm and make sure we were on course with our training methods. I also went over to Philadelphia to train and get extra competition with and from the American Olympic Squad for three months. I got some coaching and racing tips from a former Irish Olympian, Sean Drea, who was based and living in Philadelphia. Aidan also arranged to have a new racing boat built in 1983 to suit my build and style of sculling so as we could achieve fast times, and I would be well used to the boat by the Olympics in 1984 - Aidan left no stone unturned. He was absolutely marvellous.

Q. Who in your opinion is the World's greatest women's single sculler?

Frances: Marian Ambrose and Hette Borias

Q. Who is the most likeable as a person?

Frances: Carine Gusteffson, Swedish; Marie De La Fuente, Mexican and Marola Brent of Germany.

Q. I know that you suffered a great injustice over Los Angeles, how do you think you would have done had you been allowed compete?

Frances: It's a very hard question to answer, but with all the coaching, racing experience, good sound preparation I was 110% fit - if that is possible. I had not reached my peak that year - we were building up so as I would peak at the games. We felt I had a great chance of getting to the finals and maybe - hopefully a medal. All the girls I had raced against during 1984, all competed at Los Angeles.

Q. Why, do you think that the 'Powers that be' at the time, the I.A.R.U. didn't send you to the Los Angeles Olympics?

Frances: Because I was from Leitrim, I suppose. I wasn't part of their scene in Dublin. There were no women or men going that year and that didn't help either. Had I been a member of some posh city club, I'd have had a much better chance.

Q. To sum up Frances, you were a small town girl who was making for the Olympics but the 'Big Boys' didn't like this and they prevented you from going to L.A.?

Frances: Yes, they were always on to me to leave Carrick and join a big city club, I wouldn't leave Carrick, which had been good to me. Look at all the support and help I got; apart from those I have mentioned, many others helped in my training, as well as Sonny and Gabriel. I had one of the best and most dedicated coaches in the world, Aidan, and why should I leave Leitrim (my home) and row for some city club. Many others helped, in various ways, fund raising is an example. The GAA and BLE personnel in Leitrim and Roscommon organised Church Gate Collections and other means of gathering money. I owed it to them to row with Carrick.

Q. In your career rowing, which event did you enjoy winning most and where?

Frances: Every victory was sweet, but qualifying for the Moscow Olympics was really good.

Q. Would you have won a medal?

Frances: Well, it's really hard to say - you never know until the day. I remember that year they were telling us that we weren't getting the performances we should have got, but our argument was that it's very hard to peak at earlier races and then come back and peak at the Olympic Games and we were building up all the time. We never cut back on training and we were trying to explain that to them, but they weren't listening. The same thing happened in Moscow. That year, I didn't have a brilliant year, it was kind of steady and then when I got to Moscow, I remember that I beat a load of people who had beaten during the year when I got to Moscow, I was 'flying it' - I couldn't believe it. I beat the Danish girl who had beaten me more times than I had beaten her. I couldn't believe it! I had peaked at just the right time. We were hoping that that the same thing would happen when if I got to L.A.; you know the atmosphere and everything would come together and I would hit peak again. It's very hard to say now 'I'd have got a medal'; you just don't know. We had hoped definitely, as we had done everything right. It's hard to know. If men had been sent, I'd have been sent and who knows, an Olympic medal might have been mine.

Q. How did you feel about not being sent to L.A. and how do you feel about it now?

Frances: I was bitter and I still can't face some of the officials who prevented me. That's why I don't go to regattas; I know I'd run into them. I think I had to go out of rowing after it.

Q. Do you think you got a raw deal out of it?

Frances: I do feel I did, definitely. We had spent four years and we had done everything we could and to them I was nothing. Aidan had left no stone unturned. He had even brought over Iwan Vannier, the Dutch National Coach, for a fortnight to see if he improve on Aidan's technique.

Q. The Selection Committee must have had your records in front of them when they made their decision. Do you think that they can live with their consciences after turning you down?

Frances: They had my records of course. I can't understand their decision. There was one girl on the committee who shouldn't have been allowed to vote. I beat her every year and she should have abstained from voting.

Q. You have, I know, met those selectors since, have you ever brought up the subject with any of them?

Frances: No, I don't want to speak to any of them.

Q. You put a small poor rowing club on the World's rowing map. How do you feel about that?

Frances: I don't think I can take credit for putting our club on the World's Rowing Map, perhaps if I had continued racing this would have happened.

Q. What do you think of the club now. I believe that they no longer have certain crews for want of membership?

Frances: Yes this is true, but I think it's the best stretch of training water in Ireland. It has good coaches and good equipment. At present there is a great atmosphere with so many young people training. But like most clubs in small towns throughout the country, due to unemployment, it's hard to hold on to senior men and women crews. Tony Keane is a first class coach; he's completely dedicated also and the club is very fortunate to have him and John Lowe.

Q. You run a very successful restaurant. Have you any time now to follow up rowing?

Frances: Time at the moment is a big problem; like most people, when you are trying to run a business it's a 7 day week 16 hours a day. Because I gave up work and devoted so much time to rowing, my family was very helpful in every way at that time, I now feel I must try and repay them. Hopefully, in the future, I intend to give some time and help to Carrick Rowing Club.

Q. What is your attitude now to rowing?

Frances: I still love the sport, I have a great interest still, rowing is like any addiction, you never get it out of your system. I'm not ready to attend Regattas yet as I am still disappointed and a little bitter the way things went.

Q. Do you still row?

Frances: Yes when I get time I love the winter - December particularly; the river is so quiet, I get an odd hour rowing then.