A Rowing Great – Sarah Tait, 1983-2016

Olympic silver medallist, Sarah Tait of Australia has died of cancer, aged 33. Tributes have flowed in from around the world for Tait whose rowing career was cut short when the mother of two was diagnosed with cervical cancer three years ago.

The three-time Olympian, Tait began rowing while at high school in Perth. Her talent for rowing was quickly discovered and as a 17-years-old she made the Australian junior national team, where she went on to finish second in the junior women’s four. Two years later Tait made her first senior national team competing at the World Rowing Cup in the women’s four.  The crew then went to the  under-23 championships and won gold. Tait followed it up with a win in 2003 in the under-23 women’s double sculls.

At 21 Tait went to her first Olympic Games as part of the women’s eight in Athens where the crew finished sixth. She came back a year later to win her first senior World Championship title when the eight won at the 2005 World Rowing Championships in Gifu, Japan. At the same regatta Tait also medalled in the women’s pair.

Tait competed again in the eight at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. She then took a year off from competitive rowing to have her daughter, Leila. This period made Tait a role-model, especially among female athletes. Tait did swimming training up to three weeks before Leila was born. “At three weeks to go Bill (Tait’s husband and rowing coach) was away, so I didn’t want to do anything to bring on labour.” Then nine weeks after the birth, Tait got back into exercise again.

“What made me realise that I could do it (make a comeback) was when Leila was ten weeks old,” said Tait in a World Rowing interview. “We went on a camp for athletes who had taken a year off after the Olympics.” The camp was organised by Olympic Champion rower Drew Ginn and it was unique. All the athletes gathered and had to ride 200km to a farm. Tait says she did about 150km then had to stop to breastfeed Leila by the side of the road.

“It was a three day camp (Tait shared a tent with Leila) and on the first night just before midnight Drew got everyone up and into a shed. There were four ergs. We were divided into teams of four and relay raced from midnight until 9am.”

In 2010 Tait was back on the national team and together with Phoebe Stanley they finished fourth in the women’s pair. That year she became the first rower from Australia to compete and travel with her baby. IOC vice-president, John Coates paid tribute to Tait and noted, “The legacy she leaves for younger women who would like to pursue both motherhood and elite sport is truly inspirational.”

In 2011 Tait remained in the women’s pair, this time with Kate Hornsey. The duo won silver and then went on to the London 2012 Olympic Games where they won silver behind Great Britain’s Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.

Tait described the pair as the boat she had always wanted to race at the Olympic Game. ” For me it is the immediate control and impact you can have in the boat in all aspects. The energy and raw power of an eight is amazing, but nothing can beat the feeling of a pair running well beneath you.”

A year later Tait had her second child and soon after the birth she was diagnosed with cancer. Tait continued to be involved in rowing, but in February 2014 she stepped away from the sport to concentrate on her health.

The world of rowing will always remember Sarah Tait with love and respect.

“to achieve so much in her short life… a inspirational and a truly lovely person who paved the way for women in sport, not only in Australia but all over the world.” – Helen Glover, Great Britain women’s pair.

Article credit World Rowing

Photo Credit Rowing Australia


Tom Morgan

Previous editor of Row360, publisher of Junior Rowing News, freelance writer for the Daily Telegraph, the Huffington Post, Vital Football and others. Student at the University of Southampton.

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