STAGING Sir David Tanner to step down as British Rowing Performance Director - British Rowing

Sir David Tanner to step down as British Rowing Performance Director

British Rowing’s Performance Director Sir David Tanner will step down at the end of February 2018 after 21 years in charge


Sir David Tanner at the 2017 World Championships squad announcement (Naomi Baker)

Sir David Tanner CBE will step down as British Rowing Performance Director at the end of February 2018 after 21 years in charge.

Since 1996, Sir David has led the GB Rowing Team through its richest ever period of success on the international stage. In this time, he has seen 27 crews win Olympic medals (12 of them gold), seven more than any other nation, and eight Paralympic crews winning medals (six of them gold), three more than any other nation.


Sir David has been instrumental in building the women’s high performance rowing programme in Great Britain resulting in GB winning its first Olympic women’s rowing medal (2000) and then its first Olympic women’s gold (2012). Alongside this, Sir David has made sure that the Olympic men’s programme continued to prosper maintaining its outstanding run of Olympic golds from 1984 to 2016.

In 2002, Sir David introduced rowing’s World Class Start programme, an innovative talent identification and development initiative, which produced five of GB’s ten Olympic champions in London. He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake at Caversham, which opened in 2006 and is the elite training centre for the GB squads, recognised widely as world class. In the same year, Sir David started to build up the GB Paralympic programme to prepare for the 2008 Paralympic Games when rowing was the only new sport and GB topped the medal table.

“This has not been an easy decision but one I have thought about for some time. I have had a fantastic journey as rowing’s Performance Director and I feel that now is the right time to step away leaving what I believe is a strong high performance programme behind me,” Tanner said.

British Rowing Chairman, Annamarie Phelps CBE, said: “David’s desire and determination to produce winning teams and his dedication to British Rowing, the GB Rowing Team, TeamGB and ParalympicsGB has been truly remarkable. He has overseen a golden period for rowing in Great Britain and helped so many athletes and coaches achieve their goals and dreams over many Olympic and Paralympic cycles.”

UK Sport Chairman and five-time Olympic rowing medallist, Dame Katherine Grainger, said: “Sir David’s contribution to rowing is hard to put into words. I’ve known David for over 20 years in his role as Performance Director and in that time he has led fearlessly and fought passionately for the sport he cares so deeply about.

“His leadership will be missed from British Rowing but the legacy he has created will live on. That legacy is one of success built on hard work, passion, unrelenting high standards and the love of the sport. It was clear from the first day I met David that he was planning something exceptional for British Rowing and he has delivered in style.

“David not only has a respected voice both domestically and internationally in rowing but he has also used his wealth of experience to support many other coaches and performance directors in numerous other sports. We owe him an enormous thank you.”

British Olympic Association Chairman, Sir Hugh Robertson, said: “I have known Sir David for over a decade during my time as Olympics Minister and Chairman of the BOA. Over that time, he has been one of the principal architects of this country’s Olympic success, driving the multiple achievements of rowing but also using his experience and expertise for the benefit of the whole high performance system.”

UK Sport Chief Executive, Liz Nicholl, said: “Sir David’s contribution to the success of British Rowing and the UK high performance system has been immense. He was one of the very first people appointed to the new National Lottery-funded roles of Performance Director where he led the creation of the GB Rowing World Class Programme. Their medal achievements over successive Olympic and Paralympic Games since Sydney 2000 have been masterminded by Sir David. He leaves a significant legacy of medal success supported by an elite training base, a world class competitive environment and a genuine belief that the dream of winning gold medals can be achieved.”

British Olympic Association Chief Executive, Bill Sweeney, said: “Terms such as Icon and Legend are often overused and misrepresented but in the case of Sir David Tanner they are highly appropriate and justified. Since coaching his first Olympic medal in 1980, his performance record and achievements speak for themselves. What is perhaps less known is his support, contribution, and guidance to TeamGB and various sports team leaders across multiple Olympic Games. David’s intense competitive spirit and experience is much welcomed on TeamGB delegations whether in preparation or during the pressured environment of Games time. While he may be stepping down from his current role at British Rowing we will be looking to retain his expertise and knowledge within the system.”

British Paralympic Association Chief Executive, Tim Hollingsworth, said: “I am delighted to add my appreciation of Sir David Tanner’s achievements and career at British Rowing to what I am sure will be a chorus of thanks from across the British high performance system. David has been a hugely successful and influential Performance Director, central to an era of incredible profile and success that has extended beyond his sport of rowing. More recently, it was a particular pleasure to share with him the golden achievements of our Para-rowers at Rio 2016. I wish him every good wish for his future endeavours and look forward to his continued, passionate involvement in, and support for, British Paralympic and Olympic success.”

British Rowing Chief Executive Officer, Andy Parkinson, said: “What he has done for British Rowing, and for rowing in general, has been simply outstanding. I’ve had the pleasure of working very closely with Sir David for the last three years. He has made a significant contribution to the evolution of British Rowing as well as delivering top-of-the-table medal success in Rio at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. He leaves our High Performance Programme in great shape, ready for Tokyo 2020 and beyond. There is no doubt that he will be hard to replace.”

Sir David is confident his successor will take over a strong high performance programme having topped the medal table at the last three Olympic Games and two of the last three Paralympic Games. At the recent World Rowing Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton, a relatively new and young squad delivered strong results including seven medals which was ahead of the GB Rowing Team’s UK Sport medal target for 2017 and placed Great Britain second overall in terms of the number of medals won.

Leading the athlete tributes to Sir David, double Olympic champion, Heather Stanning OBE, said: “Sir David has led the GB Rowing Team for as long as I remember and has worked tirelessly year on year to ensure that all athletes got the opportunity to perform to our best on the world stage. I was extremely fortunate to be in the Team during such a time, and will be forever grateful for all he did to help Helen and me win our two Olympic Golds. I wish him all the best in whatever he does next.”

And from the gold medal-winning men’s four at Rio 2016, double Olympic champion, Alex Gregory MBE, said: “David has been the driving force at the forefront of the GB Rowing Team for many years during extraordinary times of success. I have known David for the whole of my international rowing career and from day one he has been a supportive, guiding influence pointing me in the direction I should be heading. He is an example of commitment and is unwavering in his dedication to his team. Stepping away from the role of Performance Director with British Rowing, David will be leaving some extremely big shoes to fill. I wish him the very best and have no doubt that he will bring a great deal to whatever he does next and be incredibly successful.”

Sir David told his staff and athletes on 15 December that he was stepping down in February and he has praised the people he feels have helped him build the GB Rowing Team into a world leader.

“In my early days, the late Dame Di Ellis was instrumental as Executive Chairman of British Rowing, not only in recruiting me to the role in 1996 but in backing me in growing the High Performance Programme from the original three staff to what it is now. None of this would have been possible without the support of the National Lottery and our early sponsors Camelot and Siemens.

“We have the best coaching and support team in the world, without question. My Chief Coaches Jürgen Grobler, Paul Thompson, Peter Sheppard and Tom Dyson have worked with me for a total of 64 years between them, while my mainstay has been my Assistant, Maggie Netto, who has supported me brilliantly for 20 years in this role. Thank you to them and the rest of the staff team for their loyalty and hard work.

“My energy and inspiration has always come from our athletes – I’ve worked hard to get to know our ‘up and coming’ rowers through the World Junior & Under 23 Championships and it has been great to see them progress to be successful as Seniors on the world stage. You only have to breathe the air of Caversham to appreciate the ambition, dedication and ‘sweat’ of our outstanding Olympic and Paralympic athletes. And behind every successful rower are ‘Friends & Family’ who, through their organisation, GBRT Supporters, have travelled the world to cheer our teams on, thank you.

“Finally, I have worked very closely with exceptional people at UK Sport, the BOA and the BPA who have backed us in producing top performances when it really matters and with FISA who have steered the sport of rowing wisely through the often choppy waters of international sport.”

Sir David is arguably the most successful Performance Director in the history of British sport overseeing 35 Olympic and Paralympic medals during his tenure, including leading TeamGB to ten rowing medals at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, five of which were gold. Supporting this is a successful development programme of Junior and Under 23 rowers, also producing strong medals at their World Championships and laying the basis for sustained success.

Sir David’s medal haul as Performance Director includes:
Olympic Games: 27 (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016)
Paralympic Games: 8 (2008, 2012, 2016)
World Championships: 144 (1997-2017)

Highlighting his long service to the sport of rowing, Phelps said: “I have worked closely with Sir David for over 25 years since being an athlete and I would like to express the sincere thanks of everyone involved in rowing in England and across Great Britain for his massive contribution. It is an understatement to say that David will be missed and I wish him well in everything he does in the future and I know he’ll continue to contribute to high performance sport in the UK.”

Parkinson added: “I would like to thank David for his enormous contribution to the GB Rowing Team and the sport of rowing in general and I am sure he will enjoy success in everything he does in the future.”

On his successor, Parkinson said: “We have started the process to find British Rowing’s next Director of Performance with a candidate brief to be published in early January. It will be a priority to undertake an extensive global search to ensure that we find a successor capable of building upon Sir David’s track record of success with the GB Rowing Team.”

Sir David first came to the forefront when he coached the ‘Ealing Four’ in the late 1970s, starting them from scratch as schoolboys from Ealing Grammar School and taking them through to win three World Championship medals at Junior and Senior level and an Olympic bronze in Moscow in 1980.

In the days before Lottery Funding for sport he had a full-time career in education and was headmaster for ten years at a large West London comprehensive. During this time he was Great Britain’s Senior Team Manager between 1991-1996 which included the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic Games.

After Atlanta 96, with the prospect of lottery funding for rowing for the first time, he was recruited to the full-time role of Performance Director with British Rowing (then the Amateur Rowing Association).

Sir David Tanner CBE in numbers
1: Knighthood from the Queen (2013)
2: Clubs rowed for – Abingdon School; University of Bristol
2: Clubs coached – Ealing High Schools Boat Club (1972-1986); London Rowing Club (since 1975)
3: Summer Paralympic Games attended (2008-2016)
8: Paralympic medals won, 6 of them gold
9: Summer Olympic Games attended (1980-2016)
27: Olympic medals won, 12 of them gold
144: World Championship medals won
384: Athletes who have competed at a World Championships or Olympic/Paralympic Games under his tenure at British Rowing.