By Rob Cole
As hard luck stories go, Graeme Thomas has got a belter to tell his grandchildren.
Having worked so hard to achieve his dream of becoming an Olympian, the Welsh rower went all the way to Rio with Team GB in 2016 only to be struck down by a mystery, flu-like virus after arriving in Brazil.
Although he recovered pretty quickly the selectors took the decision not to risk his fitness and at the 11th hour they called-up Jack Beaumont to replace him. He didn’t even get out on the water with his British quadruple scull team mates and was sent home on the next available flight.
He was forced to watch the Olympic regatta on TV back home while his Mum and Dad were left in Rio dreaming of what might have been for their son. Gutting!
But the one time Sale Sharks trialist is no quitter. He was back in the boat as soon as possible and even though he is now 30 he has next year’s Tokyo Olympics very much in his sights and mind.
Next month’s World Championships will determine whether or not his latest British boat qualifies for Tokyo. These days the 6ft 5in powerhouse is in the double scull with John Collins.
“We have to qualify the boat at the World Championships and we will need a top 10 place to do that. It’s a very close field, so there’s real pressure,” said Thomas.
“There are a dozen teams who will feel they have a good chance. The Olympic Games is what every rower is aiming for and because they only come around once every four years they are very special.
“What happened in Rio is still quite an emotive subject to think about. Just being selected for an Olympic Games is such a big deal.
“To then race it, is a further step on and then to get onto the podium is the absolute pinnacle of anything. I really do know what is on the line when it comes to the Olympics and what happened to me in Rio has definitely brought an element of more focus into my every day training.”
British rowing guru Jürgen Grobler was the man who wanted Thomas to switch to the double scull and the new double act won the British trial in April. They then narrowly missed out on a medal at the European Championships in Lucerne, where they were fourth.
If that was encouraging, the silver medal at the World Cup race in Poznan was another step forward and they picked up a bronze medal in the latest round in Rotterdam last weekend.
But Thomas points to the victory in record time over the reigning world champions from New Zealand, John Storey and Chris Harris, in winning the Double Sculls Challenge Cup at Henley earlier this month as the real guide to the potential of the new dynamic duo.
“It’s a case of ‘so good, so far’. Things are moving in the right direction and it was great to beat the Kiwis,” added Thomas.
“The target is to peak for the World Championships and to qualify the boat for the Olympics. But I won’t be counting any chickens until that green light has gone in Tokyo next year and we’ve started the race.
“In the run up to Rio it was very much about the Olympics, but now I really enjoy what I’m doing every single day and that makes me more motivated to do a better job. Rather than it being about this outcome in a years’ time, it’s about getting the best out of myself day-to-day and not worrying about Tokyo.
“Obviously Tokyo 2020 is in the back of the mind, but the mood and the focus is very much on the World Championships. We have to qualify boats and nobody in the British team is getting ahead of themselves.
“Rowing is a job to me, my dream job, but that doesn’t take anything away from how much it means to me or how special it is.”