Slalom Canoe World Champion: 1983 and 1987.
Interview carried out in 2000
My married name is Elizabeth Radford, but I used to paddle kayak and my maiden name was Sharman. I was born in 1957 in Bolton Manchester, which is a far cry from Suffolk!
At what age did you become interested in sport?
I had always been very athletic and joined in most games and competitions. When my parents moved to East Anglia in the early 70's I was about 15 or 16 then, I noticed that there was a local canoeing club in Bury St Edmunds and went along. I got interested quite seriously in kayaking and it went from there. I met my future husband (George) He was quite substantial in stimulating my career in that sport.
Were you living at Bury St Edmunds at the time?
No, we were living near Stowmarket, in a village called Tostock. My mother was District Midwife for the area.
Did you start training when you were 15?
Oh yes! The rise was meteoric actually. We discovered that I had a flair for kayaking. and we set out a cunning plan. We decided that we would go at it through the divisional system that was five or six divisions from grade six up to premier. We achieved this in one season. It meant a great deal of driving. I think we did about twenty thousand miles that year, if I remember rightly. (much more I am being told from the other corner of the room!) Going to different slaloms every weekend to get promoted and eventually we got to the top division and got selected to the British team.
From there I went to Canada in 1978 and got silver in the Pre World Championships. I returned the following year, I was 18 at the time, to get the Silver Medal in the World Championships missing the Gold by .46 of a second! If I had stuck my tongue over the line I might have got the gold, but I was very inexperienced in those days at top- level competition. It took about ten years before I was really top flight and consistent enough to win gold medals at World Championship standard.
When I first went along to Bury St. Edmund's Canoeing Club all those years ago, we used to do regular training on the Little Ouse at Santon Downham, and that was one of the deciding factors in us moving to the village in 1988. We actually saw property for sale, came along and investigated and decided that was for us. It would mean a lot less travelling because I was coming to Santon Downham two, three, four times a week to train on the river which had a very minimal flow compared to what I really needed, but it was better than driving to North Wales or Scotland.
We moved here and from then on it was a lot easier to do the training and I was a little closer to North Wales as well, being a little further down the A14 corridor. Basil Branch at Kennel Bungalows was a big help. He used to see me parking on the road outside his house and putting strings across the river at the side of his house. The river runs down by the side of his property and Basil being inquisitive said: " what are you doing there then?" He ended up holding the stopwatch for me, and helping me a tremendous amount with my training.
I won the Championship twice before I moved to Santon Downham. I won the World championships in Italy in 1983 and in France in 1987. I decided in1987 that the only thing that had eluded me was an Olympic medal or the chance of being at the Olympic games. I wanted to, I suppose jump on the bandwagon. With regard to the Games I hadn't had the opportunity to go in my own sport, I though: Well I could step sideways in various disciplines of canoeing and go into sprint canoeing. I decided that I wanted to go to the Olympic games basically, so about twelve months before the games in 1988 I thought: Right I've done every thing there is to do in canoe slalom I'll hop sideways into canoe sprint which is a flat water discipline and see if I get a chance of going to the Games. We started training with a bloke in the area. Actually he was paralysed with polio and couldn't walk and was on crutches. He was called Jonathan Gloyne-Walters and lived at East Burgholt. Under his tuition I learned to sprint paddle rather quickly. I went to the trials for the Olympic games at Holme Pierrepont and got selected to paddle in the k 2. in Seoul. I got my trip to the Olympic games. There was absolutely no chance of winning a medal with only an 18 month preparation; remember I had been going for 20 years at canoe slalom and had I'd had the opportunity at canoe slalom, I might have had a pretty strong chance!