As has been widely reported in the media, Dan Topolski passed away on Saturday 21 February 2015 in London after a lengthy battle against leukaemia, at the age of 69. Others will speak of his coaching career at OUBC and at GB level, and as a producer, journalist, author and commentator. This note will speak of him as a London man, which he was through and through.
Dan was elected to LRC at the age of 19 in 1964. He was the son of Feliks Topolski (a famous artist with a very distinctive style of drawing, and a favourite of our Patron; his witty portrayal of Henley heavies hangs in the Fairbairn Room). Dan joined from Westminster School, where he had been in the first eight, rowing twice in the PE Cup, and was elected Head of the Water (captain of rowing in Westminster-speak).
Dan was a lightweight par excellence, weighing in at just over 10 stone at school and 11 to 11 ½ stone in much of his rowing and sculling career. Despite his modest dimensions, he was to bring LRC into winning mode from the late 60s until the mid-70s with sheer technical skill and tenacity. He rowed on either side of the boat and was equally happy at opposite ends, be it bow or stroke, but he probably favoured the 7 thwart in eights the most.
He first rowed in an LRC crew at Henley the year he joined, and then after two Boat Races and Isis/OUBC crews, his rowing career took off after he returned to the Club in 1969. He won the Wyfold that year, in the Club’s first post-WWII win in fours, at bow with Nick Cooper, Peter Harrison and Chris Blackwall. The crew was later selected to represent GB in the European Championships (precursor of the World Championships). In 1970 he won the Britannia with Cooper, Sturge and Dart and cox R Sherman. He was central to LRC’s successful involvement in lightweight rowing in the 70s, culminating in the gold medal he won in the lightweight eight in the World Championships in Amsterdam in 1977. The crew (with Ray Penney on board as cox) also won the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley that year - quite exceptional for a lightweight crew! His last year representing GB was in the following year. He was elected a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in December 1991.
Dan kept a sculling boat at the Club and was a successful sculler. More recently he would come down, usually during the day, for an outing, on occasion with his son Luke in a club double. He was one of the first to be elected to Honorary Membership when the honour was revived in 2001. The Club is on the point of naming one of its new eights after Dan, and a framed photo of him for the new ‘internationals wall’ on the main entrance was being discussed with him in the weeks before his death. Sadly, he was taken from us before he could unveil them both.
There is an expression to describe excellence, “of the first water”, and this may be quite an apt way of describing best his standing and powers of friendship that he brought to rowing and LRC life, and how he contributed to the Club’s success. We were lucky to have him amongst our membership. Our sympathy and condolences go out to his family.
(Photos courtesy of John Shore)