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Rio 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of women’s rowing at the Olympic Games. Donna McLuskie looks back to the summer of 1976: the Montreal Games, and where it all started.

In February 1976, oarswoman Anne Warner, a 1975 world championship silver medallist in the US women’s eight, caught pneumonia. Soon after, on the morning of 3 March, Warner and eighteen others from Yale women’s rowing team assembled themselves before the school’s director of women’s athletics, and proceeded to remove their tops in protest. Written across their chests and backs as they stood, half naked, was ‘Title IX’ (a reference to federal legislation that had been passed in 1972 which mandated athletic equality regardless of gender).

Their captain read from a statement: ‘On a day like today, the rain freezes on our skin. Then we sit for half an hour as the ice melts into our sweats to meet the sweat that has soaked our clothes underneath … half a dozen of us are sick now, and in two days’ time we will begin training twice every day….’.

There were no hot showers or locker rooms for the women’s rowing team at Yale in 1976. They had to wait on a bus while the men showered and changed before a thirty-mile drive back to campus from the boathouse. Olympian Ginny Gilder, who later supported Yale’s Gilder Boathouse build, recalls further humiliation when some oarsmen would refer to those female athletes as ‘sweathogs’.

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About Row360

Welcome to Row360, the world’s only global, independent rowing magazine. Row360 brings you features from around the world, profiling the best athletes, coaches, and others from the whole rowing community – Olympic, Paralympic, college, club, ocean, and more.