Graeme's rowing his way to Rio
There was a slight philosophical tone in the voice of Graeme Thomas in the immediate aftermath of one of the most crucial couple of days in his rowing career.
The 27-year-old Prestonian was certainly not getting too down on himself after producing a terrific performance at Team GB’s Olympic trials at the Redgrave-Pinsent Rowing Lake, in Caversham.
In finishing second in the single scull 2km final on Wednesday, Thomas has put himself in a fantastic position to achieve his dream of earning selection for this summer’s Olympic Games.
Young and inexperienced four years ago after only taking up the sport at the age of 20, it was almost inevitable that Thomas would not be selected on the squad for London 2012.
But things are different this time and with the benefit of an Olympiad cycle behind him, the former Corpus Christi Catholic High School pupil has become one of the country’s most established rowers.
He has won medals at major competitions, including silver in the quadruple scull at the 2014 World Championships, in Amsterdam, and has huge expectations of being on the plane to Rio de Janeiro this summer.
After finishing runner-up to single scull expert Alan Campbell in Wednesday’s trials, it will be a major surprise if Thomas does not earn one of the 48 places on offer to Team GB’s rowing squad in Brazil.
But despite edging ever closer to realising his Olympic ambition, the competitive nature in Thomas meant there was a tinge of disappointment in his voice when he reflected upon his second-place finish.
His slight displeasure was perhaps compounded by the fact that it is the third successive year that he has finished in the silver medal position at the Team GB trials.
“It’s a little bit frustrating,” Thomas said. “It seems that I am always the bridesmaid – always second.
“There always seems to be someone else who gets their nose in front of me.
“ At least it’s consistent. But you have to remember, I have only been in this sport for around six years.
“I took the sport up at the age of 20.
“I’m racing against people with a lot more experience than me so just to be consistent with my performances every year is obviously a good place to be with the Olympics coming up.”
Thomas qualified for the final after progressing through the initial intensive process of a time trial followed by a semi-final stage on Tuesday.
He needed to finish inside the top 12 rowers in terms of the time trial and did that with plenty to spare as he clocked the sixth fastest time on the day.
The best dozen performers were then split into two semi-finals of six, with the Preston ace going in the first of those on Wednesday morning. His mark of 7:12.02 was good enough to see him finish runner-up to Angus Groom and his time proved to be the second fastest out of all 12 competitors.
In the final, Thomas upped his level once more to finish ahead of Groom in a time of 6:55.07, but was unable to get the better of Campbell, who clocked 6:52.94.
“After the semi-finals, it sort of became clear that there would be kind of two races between two sets of three rowers in the final,” said Thomas.
“There would be a race between myself, Alan and Angus.
“We were very close in the race. I stayed pretty much level with those two but once we got to about the 1,500m mark, Alan really started to push out with him opening a little gap between us. Alan just kept moving away and got that few extra seconds clear of me which made it more difficult to chase him down in the final sprint to the line.”
The fact that Thomas was able to run Campbell so close should hand him a huge amount of confidence, especially as racing as a single sculler is not his preferred event.
He has spent the last four years working for the majority of the time as part of a team in the quadruple scull.
On the other hand, Irishman Campbell is an experienced single sculler, who won bronze in London 2012 and has spent this Olympiad training, in the main, for this specific event.
Indeed, after the trials, Thomas felt that if he had the benefit of more time training as a single scull, he could have cut the gap between himself and Campbell in the final – and even could have won it.
“My main focus for this entire Olympiad has been the quad,” Thomas said.
“It’s been a case of synchronising my technique to fit together with the other guys on the boat.
“Alan’s been racing as a single scull all through the Olympiad.
“He won a bronze in London and he’s got the experience and is more efficient than me in the single scull.
“Hats off to him for winning it again. I like to think with a bit more time and practice, I could have made it an even closer race.
“I think the margin of victory was around two to three seconds which is significant enough.
“So a few more weeks training, I like to think I could have got a bit more efficient and been able to push on a bit more in the last 500m.
“But I did what I did with the amount of time that I had.
“So I am pleased with that aspect. I am sure that will be taken into consideration when it comes to selection.
“I think what I have done in the trials has put me in a really good position to be selected for the Olympics.”
Thomas admits he is very much in the dark now as to what the immediate future holds.
GB Rowing team performance director Sir David Tanner will be using the results of the trials to formulate the make-up of his squad heading into the Europeans Championships, in Brandenburg, Germany, in a couple of months’ time, followed by the Olympics.
Tanner said: “We’ve had an exceptional set of trials which is suitable for an Olympic year. We’ve had some great racing and it was good to see the standard of our Olympians stepping up with some top-level performances.
“We still have some questions as we move towards our crew formation.
“We have good information from these trials as we start putting together our boats for the European Championships in May and then, later in the year, for the Olympics.”
Thomas is hoping that he will continue to work as part of a four-man team in the quadruple scull, but it all boils down to how Tanner sees things.
“I am sure the head coach will be analysing what’s happened at the trials and then it’s about finding out what he wants.
“I really do hope that it is the quad for me. That is the boat that I have really focused all of my attention on.
“I have learned so much over the last few years in the quad
“We have had some good results – four medals in major Championships over the last four years.
“I would like to keep together with the same crew rather than start from scratch in something else
“It would be a shame to waste all that good work, but it might be that I go in a different boat and if that was the case, I would try my best to make it work.”
Having turned 27-years-old in November, Thomas is moving into his peak years as a rower.
But the former rugby player believes he has still got much more to learn and improve upon.
“I definitely think in terms of learning how to be the most efficient as a rower – there is a lot more to come from me,” he said.
“I think I could be a little bit better managing the intensity of what I do in training to cut down on injury and illness.
“I have only just come back from a back injury which kept me out for nine weeks and in that time I was out, I could have been making more improvements.
“But that’s the next part of the challenge – eking out those extra one percents. Those little percentages are always the hardest to get.”
The trials are always a strange dynamic for the rowers mentally because they are pitting themselves against people who ordinarily they train and compete alongside for the rest of the year.
Thomas revealed that there are certain tactics played out in the weeks and months leading up to the event as the athletes try to keep an edge over their team-mates.
From not showing their true hand in the build-up to the trials, to rowing tactically in the semi-finals, Thomas admitted the whole two-day event is a major test of an athlete’s mental resolve as well as his physical endurance.
“They are a test of character,” he said.
“These past few days have been a little bit stressful.
“But I’m pleased with how I have been able to perform.
“In terms of the Olympics, finishing second means that a huge box has been ticked.
“I’m definitely still there battling – that flame has not been doused.
“The Olympic dream is only going get stronger.”