Big Interview: Preston rower Graeme Thomas remains focused on achieving Olympic glory

Graeme Thomas
Graeme Thomas

Craig Salmon talks to Preston’s Olympic rowing hopeful Graeme Thomas

Feeling sorry for himself has never been part of Graeme Thomas’ psyche.

Not even when his Olympic dream came crashing down around him in Rio de Janeiro three years ago.

The Preston rower was on the cusp of realising his childhood ambition of competing at the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth when he was struck down by a debilitating illness shortly after touching down on Brazilian soil.

Despite recovering quickly to health from the mystery virus, Team GB officials took the traumatic decision to pull him from the team at the 11th hour as they felt he would not be fit enough to endure the rigours of the competition.

With Olympic accreditation torn from his grasp, Thomas was on the next available flight home – replaced by Jack Beaumont on the quadruple scull team.

It was on the plane where reality hit home.

Years of training, meticulous planning and dedication had seemingly gone to waste.

Thomas would readily admit that there have been a few, ‘ Why me?’ moments over the last few years, but those feelings have been outweighed by a steely mind set and determination to succeed.

It is the reason why within days of his Rio agony, he was back in the boat looking to the future.

Now just a year away from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Thomas can once again see the prize on the horizon.

Rather than dwell on the past, the former Corpus Christi Catholic High School pupil is using the experience to help him achieve his goals.

“I do definitely think about what happened from time to time,” said Thomas.

“ It still is quite an emotive subject to think about.

“I don’t think it’s right to say that what happened has lit a fire underneath me.

“I really do know what is on the line when it comes to the Olympics. Just being selected for an Olympic Games is such a big deal.

“To then race it, is a further step on and then to be on the podium for medals is the absolute pinnacle of anything.

“But what I do think is it has definitely brought an element of more focus into my every day training.

“I think it has also helped me find an enjoyment as well.

“You have to realise that stuff can happen in life – that’s the way it is. So you have to make sure that you enjoy the process and when you’re enjoying the process of training then it makes it all the more easier.”

Surely if Thomas was to win a medal – particularly gold – in Tokyo next year, it would arguably be one of the biggest stories of the Games.

However, as he succinctly puts it, both literally and metaphorically, there is still a lot of water to go under the bridge before he can even start thinking about that.

“The goal has definitely not changed,” he said.

“But obviously there are a lot of processes to go through before then.

“ We have to qualify the boat at the World Championships this year.

“In the double scull, we will need a top 10 place to qualify.

“So there’s pressure there.

“It’s a very close field.

“There are about 12 teams who will feel they have a good chance and everybody will be bringing their ‘A’ game.

“The Olympics is what every rower is aiming for. They only come around once every four years so they are very special.”

At the Rio Games, Thomas was part of the quadruple scull but he has changed disciplines and will compete for a place at Tokyo with partner John Collins in the double scull.

“I won the GB trials back in April – the final 12 – which is the first time I have ever done that,” Thomas said.

“Jürgen Grobler – the chief coach – said he wanted me in the double scull this season.

“We did some testing and John was by far the strongest person to do the double with.

“I quite enjoy rowing with John – he’s quite a smooth sculler.

“We felt that this combination had the most potential to train really effectively which is obviously just as important as racing.

“If you are turning up every day not thinking you can make a difference then you really are leaving things down to luck when it comes to racing the regattas.”

Despite being a newly-formed team, Thomas and Collins are pleased with the progress they have made in such a short space of time.

At the European Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland, the pair narrowly missed out on a podium spot when they finished fourth.

But they followed that up by achieving a silver medal in Poznan, Poland, last month.

They are in action once again this weekend in Rotterdam for World Cup III.

Thomas admits confidence is high, especially after they got the better of 2017 world champions New Zealand at Henley last weekend.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” Thomas said. “We raced last weekend at Henley and beat the Kiwis, so it’s a case of so far so good.

“The target is to peak for the World Championships at the end of this year and hopefully qualify the boat for the Olympics.”