A Polymath

The Rower

The 1977 crew

At the 1977 Amsterdam World Championships.  The first GB gold for about 25 years.


Commemorative blade

LRC blade

In about 1989, a reunion.  It was about then, the eight started to go out on the Saturday morning of HRR.

Most of us were still rowing at club level and the general consensus was that it was better than any of our respective ‘club’ outings during the year.

1977 crew at HRR 1989 photo

Picture was from 4, Duncan Innes, with thanks, and his post…

“The paint on the blade may be fading on the blade but the memories do not. Our London Lightweight VIII started 1977 by winning the Vernon Trophy at the Head of the River; narrowly avoided decapitating swimmers and broke the world record in Salzgitter; hunted cakes and had a swift half out of Ron’s sight in Ratzeburg; and survived the Grand Union Canal training before winning the Serpentine Jubilee sprint. A new Carbocraft for Henley added spice to the  Thames Cup at Henley followed by wins at Lucerne and Nottingham before meeting our match with the Spanish in Copenhagen. The Nottingham training camp of wind and waves toughened us up for the showdown at the World Championships and just time for Dan to ensure we carried minimal weight to win Amsterdam gold by 0.07second. Fine judgement indeed with not a millisecond or milligram wasted.
A crew full of different characters with a common aim Dan was at its heart and soul. It was a privilege to have known him and to share that special year in his extraordinary life. Our 7 seat may be empty but he has left us all a boatload of memories and friendships in his wake…not a second wasted… and an inspiration to us all.”

From 3,  Chris George

“On the 27th August 1977, by 0.07, seconds our crew won the race we had been had been seeking to win since Lightweights were introduced to the World’s in 1974. We were all driven. We were unbeaten until the penultimate regatta of the season at Copenhagen, 6 weeks before the World Champs when Thor Nilsson’s Spanish crew came out of the woodwork with their charismatic Fernando Climent as stroke man. Had they not beaten us then, we would never have won but it spurred the crew with a determination not to let this one go. One man, in the 7 seat (into which he had eased himself from the bow some weeks earlier!), with his stroke man, Chris Drury, was key to this success. At Amsterdam, he set about conditioning us with the will to win. He started the process  which modesty and good taste prevents me from describing on this website but which is known to many and, of course, we all followed his example. He started the process of encouraging us to start to personalise the Spanish as our “hated” opposition (think Faulty Towers?), much in the same way as Oxford refer to  Cambridge using slightly sharp sobriquets as we conditioned ourselves to be better than them in every way. We loved to see them lift the boat off the rack not knowing the secret ingredient of GB go slow “polish” pre-applied before their outing every day. He was key in “persuading” Ron, our unflappable coach, to make the decision to change coxes on the morning of the heat and spend until about 2 in the morning before the race browbeating poor Ron till the decision was made. When weighing in, he delighted the lady manning the scales with a certain extension adornment worn on the appropriate and only available part of his anatomy which, goodness knows, needed no extension (in those days you were allowed to weigh in totally naked and indeed it was a requisite maximise your advantage). He delighted us with this bravado and, during the last 30 strokes of the race, was seen to be vying with Chris in the stroke seat as to who could get the rate up higher. We won – just – and the margin totally justified the change to a lighter cox. Some 15 or so years later we reunited on the Saturday morning of HRR and went out for a paddle. It went so well that every year since that eight has been out at 7 am on the Saturday of HRR. On one celebrated occasion we ended up paddling down the enclosures with the GB heavyweight eight, I think with Tim Foster at 7. Last year, he was not well enough but came to Henley regardless. Yesterday, we lost the the heart of that crew and our lives will never be the same again. We will go out again (perhaps with Luke for a trip? perhaps with the seat tied down?) as that is what this man would have wanted us to do. We have lost the man but not the spirit and I, for one, have no hesitation in saying he enriched my life in many other ways than rowing. I would say RIP but I am pretty sure Dan Topolski would not want to be resting… and certainly was not interested in peace so lets all, instead, thank our lucky stars we knew him and realise just how lucky we were, and are, to have had that privilege. “

From Stroke, Chris Drury

I was lucky enough to cross paths with Daniel,  having known him at LRC where he was already a  established winner. In 1974  having beaten him in the scullers head I pestered him and we joined forces in a lightweight 4- which after two years led to a silver medal at the 75 Nottingham  World Champs and many adventures. Rowing with Dan was like being recruited to his gang whether Putney or Kings Road. The magic dust that rubbed off him helped one’s esteem, aspirations  and confidence and was a spur to better things. He made you believe that all was possible and I was lucky to have benefited from having rowed with him and growing in confidence as a result.

We had so much fun in the LRC/GB 1977 lightweight viii and trained so hard with real vision  having a terrific Henley Thames Cup win,  3 sec slower than the Grand, and a Gold at the Worlds in Amsterdam , the first GB had won in 25 years, also winning both days in Salzgitter, Ratzeburg, Lucerne and first day at Copenhagen.

Together, we  won the Pairs head 4 times beating Henley winners and Internationals and the IV’s head once. At the heavyweight trials in November ’76 we won 8 of 9 x  2000m races beating all the heavyweights.  Our paths crossed often thereafter and it was fun to be on the other side of the Boat Race for ten years. Although  we didn’t  seem in contact much, I always knew that it was a  revered friendship on both sides with a deep understanding  that comes from shared experiences. Feistiness was often exchanged largely in fun  but always in the knowledge that we were mates deep down. Yet again, Dan has reached the finish with many tributes, admiring glances and plaudits making us all reflect a warm glow on having shared time with him and enjoyed being part of his gang, the memories of which live on.

From Paul Stuart-Bennett at 2

I was aware of Dan’s presence in the rowing world as soon as I took up the sport, aged 15. He was already firmly established as an Oxford Blue and demonstrated that size was not everything…
I raced at Oxford City Regatta in 1968 and was astounded to see Dan racing and winning in almost every Senior event that was on offer. He was seldom off the water – truly inspirational. It was not until I started to race at Senior level that we first met to race each other in eights in 1971 and then with regularity in various crews.
It was a pure thrill when he decided to join the training group that culminated in the formation of our World Champion eight in 1977. We all put in a hard winter’s training and there was much intense competition in our training pairs where Dan formed a formidable unit with Chris Drury.  Chris George and I had to resort to using every trick in the book (and a few others) when racing them. Once we started to race the eight, there seemed to be little to stop us. However, the whole crew almost met a very messy end when training before racing at Ratzeburg Regatta. Rowing alongside the course our cox, Ray Penny, had failed to notice a rather large obstacle [the distance indicator platform floating on four buoys] in front of us on the 2000 metre finish line. Dan, at that time, was rowing at bow. Realising that he would be the first to be wiped out unless we stopped our sprint early, he shouted rather excitedly that we had a problem. When, after a panic stop, we ground to a halt, the bows of the eight were under the hefty platform boards [with Dan’s back nestling against them!] which would have caused massive injuries and possible loss of life. We all owe a lot to him in so many ways.

After 1977, we continued to race together, winning the Fours Head outright and then later in life he came to Upper Thames RC on a regular basis where we enjoyed many wins at Veteran level and trips abroad. Much has been said about Dan’s attraction to girls and it was hardly surprising that there were a few successes as he always showed so much interest in everything around him. His boyish enthusiasm was infectious. He is sorely missed and I feel privileged to have known him.

From Colin Cusack , at 5

I first met Dan in the door way to Wallingford rowing club, back in the sixties when he was at Oxford.  He had just arrived in his open topped Mini Moke and parked opposite the club door at break-neck speed. Jumping out with his long Afghan coat he hurried over asking where the changing rooms were. He was very flamboyant with his wind blown un-kept hair, jeans and the trade mark handful of kit under his arm. He had arrived to row in the one of the OUBC eights, which used Wallingford as a base. I never did find out if he was late.

It would be many years later that I would start to compete against him and then with him in the 1977 lightweight eight.  Dan had far too much energy after a hard training outing and never seemed to rest. I do remember at the fours head we raced twice; once in a sweep boat and then again with Dan and the London RC Melvin’s in a quad when it was first introduced to the head.  I remember, after an event, talking to some of the Dutch team, one of the young ladies said, “the problem with you English – you do not speak any languages”. Dan replied in French and few other tongues which surprised the lady, who just said he was an exception to the rule. I agree – Dan was a very exceptional person and a great oarsman. It has been a pleasure to have shared some great moments on and off the water with him for so many years.

At this years Oxford’s Torpids I helped with starting the crews over the four days of racing. The last race of the each day is the men’s First Division. All week I had sent Lincoln off at number 13 until the final day.  For the very last race, New College turned up after bumping Lincoln earlier in the day. They arrived at the start with black arm bands and the coach gave a speech about tactics and the “Topolski” 20 push!  I asked what the “Topolski” 20 was. “It is a secret”!  Well good luck and thank you Dan.  Not sure how you fixed it for me but thanks for giving me the opportunity of poling off your old College crew.  A great way to remember you and the sport we both love.

News Flash!     New College did bump and are now back in the first division. His magic worked.

The Coach

1980 The Coach 30 years on DSC9157

 Coaching at the 30th Reunion outing of the Olympic Ladies


Reunion lunch 1 30 years on IMG_3318

And at the luncheon thereafter!

A Moscow Olympic story from Joanna Toch

In 1978, aged 16, I won my first race and, as we grouped in the River Lea club house waiting for our pots, encountered the World Champion, Daniel Toploski.  His presence dominated the room with his combination of total self-confidence and his desire to find out who you were.  Daniel was an anthropologist with an artist’s eye. I had no idea who he was but I knew instinctively that I was not yet ready for the X-ray and I stood behind my crewmates Jane, Kate and Belinda as he told them he was putting together the women’s eight for the 1980 Olympics.

In April 1979 the amused Dan argued the case with the Junior selectors for the Weybridge Four after Kate told him that there was no point putting up another composite, as we had beaten them all.  Tideway training with his women’s squad and Salzgitter regatta followed.  We made sure to repay him by winning the junior fours and eights then leading his women’s four until the closing strokes at the National Championships.  At the World Junior Championships in Moscow the taste of defeat was a shock: I learned international rowing was a different world.

78 women started for trials for the Olympics in September 1979 under the ruthless Topolski training regime.  Every weights session, every run, every erg, every outing was competitive.  Every result was recorded and shared.  We were sent out to race in small boats and combinations were changed on the night before International regattas. We didn’t know we could do what we were asked but we found we could.

Jane told me she crawled from my car into her house and up the stairs after I dropped her back after a training session.  We agreed we would never have started it if we had known how hard it would be: but once there we were on the astronaut programme.

Those that hung on to the final cut knew their place was determined by results not by favour and there was an unspoken respect for the others because of it.  Dan believed in all of us and his answer, when I complained that I was doing my best, and he should stop picking on me about my technique, was straightforward: “I know you can be good, if I didn’t know that I wouldn’t bother”.

We raced in sponsor’s kit, we had new Empacher boats and our profile was raised by pieces in the press.  We had training camps in Spain, Italy and (when the government stopped wanting a team to go to the Olympics) Exeter, taking instruction from Thor Neillson and physiological and psychological testing.  When the Western Olympic boycott was mooted Dan got us into our GB tracksuits and we drove to the House of Commons after a training session and sat above the debate in the House of Commons as a pressure block.

We were amateurs in the era of Eastern Bloc professionalism and drug taking regimes and a short course which was 25% anaerobic which made for brutal racing.  We were treated by Dan as professionals.  He was there to put our boats on the water, there with pride when we won at International regattas such as Amsterdam and there with a plan when we didn’t.

In 1980, aged 18, I took the last place in the top boat at bow in the British eight.  Looking for another inch of speed Dan put a tandem rig in the middle and I moved up to two.

I was still at school at the time and still becoming myself.  Daniel was the single most important influence on my life.  Many life adventures followed but the phrases from that time burn true.  He taught me not to look to either side, no alternatives, no Plan B, complete determination.

Daniel’s ability was to see in you what you could not see in yourself.  He had no interest in self-promotion but only in promoting others.  Those he did not believe in, he simply moved away from.  Daniel the anthropologist, writer, photographer, adventurer, member of the sixties counter-culture, rower, coach, broadcaster, proud father was a rainbow viewed through a kaleidoscope, a photograph without a negative and people adored him because he adored them.

The HRR Steward

Steward (Martin Murphy) 1425230_10206054347707284_4623681383342860494_o

Taken by a young (40 odd) Irish admirer at Henley 2010 and sent to to me to put on the site.  A lovely photo.

The Photographer

The Author

The Journalist

The Conservator of Feliks’s Paintings



Angela Gorgas, photographer, kindly donated this photograph, pro bono, for this website and said,

I took this photograph of Daniel and Feliks in 1977, as part of a series of portraits commissioned by the Mail on Sunday; the feature was titled ‘Famous Fathers’. I am very fond of this picture, not just from an artistic point of view, i.e. the beautiful natural light, the pleasing lines of the composition and the characterful chaos of the studio; but also I love their relaxed poses, gentle expressions and the echoing tilt of the heads. To me it captures the intimate bond between them, and that is what is important. Hopefully others will see it too. RIP Daniel x

The Bon Vivant