Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tony Fox: An Extraodinary British Sculler

Two months ago, 31 July, Thomas Anthony Fox died, at 82 years old. In the beginning of the 1950s and onward, in a time when British rowing was struggling, Fox rose to the occasion to defend his country’s colours in the single scull and the double scull.

Tony Fox, born on 27 July 1928 on Guernsey, began to row as a young boy, and while he followed in his father’s footsteps to become a doctor, he greatly disappointed him by concentrating more on his rowing than his medicine studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Sculling for his college in the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley in 1951, Fox defeated Aage Ernst Larsen of Denmark in the final. Three years earlier, Larsen, together with Ebbe Parsner, had taken the Olympic silver medal in the double scull behind Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell. 1951 became a great year for the young Pembroke student as he also won the Wingfield Sculls and the London Cup at the Metropolitan Regatta – to take the British triple crown was, and still is, a remarkable achievement. Added to this is also a silver medal in the single at the 1951 European Championships in Macon, France. At a time when there was no World Rowing Championships, the world’s best oarsmen were battling for the medals at the European Championships instead.

Strangely enough, Fox was never picked to row in the Cambridge Blue Boat.

Tony Fox joined the London RC which, among its members during the 1950s, had Great Britain’s best oarsmen: ‘Farn’ Carpmael (Wingfields 1948, 1949), John Marsden (Wingfields 1956), John Pinches (Grand 1938; Silver Goblet 1947 with), Edward Sturges (Silver Goblet 1947; Wingfields 1950), and Doug Melvin (Wingfields 1955, 1958).

In the colours of London RC, Tony Fox made it to the final in the Diamonds in 1952, but was beaten by the Australian policeman Mervyn Wood, the 1948 Olympic gold medalist. Fox was thereafter sent to the Olympic rowing event in Helsinki where he came fourth (defeating Wood in a heat to the final). Many years later, Fox would remember his Olympic adventure in Finland. “I was completely out of my depth,” he would say. He was the only sculler without a coach that could give him assistance and advice. Even to this day his accomplishment has yet to be achieved by a British sculler. (For example, Sir Steve Redgrave’s best result in the single scull at the World Championships was a 12th place, and Alan Campbell’s best result in the 2008 Olympic Games was a fifth place.)

Fox did also take the Wingfields in 1952, as in 1953. The latter year, he also overpowered R. George of Belgium to take his second title in the Diamonds.

The following year, Tony Fox and his fellow Londoner, John Marsden, had a go in the double scull at Henley. To everyone’s surprise, they creamed the Russian double, Georgiy Zhylin and Ihor Yemchuk, who had taken the Olympic silver in Helsinki. Nevertheless, Fox and Marsden lost the next heat to previous year’s winner in the double and European champions, the Swiss, E. Schiever and P. Stebler, who would eventually be the winners of the 1954 Double Sculls Challenge Cup. Later that year, the British double again met the Swiss double in the European Championships on Bosbaan, Amsterdam. In the final, Schiever and Stebler looked like easy winners, but they were passed just in front of the finish line by the young Germans, Schneider and Haege. Fox and Marsden ended up on a fourth place.*

One more time, Fox would have a go at the Diamonds. In 1956, he worked his way through the heats, but in the final there was not much he could do against the Pole Tedor Kocerka, who took his second Diamonds title. The same year, Fox finished ninth in the Olympic single event on Lake Wendouree, Ballarat in Australia.

In 2002, Tony Fox was elected an Honorary Member of the London RC.

Below is a newsreel showing Fox winning the Diamonds in 1951 (the newsreel starts with golf, but after 2 minutes it goes over to Henley Royal Regatta.)


* Some websites and obituaries state that Fox and Marsden took the European Championships/ World Championships/ in the double in Amsterdam in 1954, but that was not the case!

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