Thomas desperate to make up for Rio last-gasp heartache

Thomas desperate to make up for Rio last-gasp heartache

Not until he watches the light turn green in his boat on the water at Tokyo 2020 will Graeme Thomas feel safe to acknowledge that his Olympic dream has finally become a reality.

The Preston rower was selected in the quadruple scull boat for Rio 2016 but was struck down by illness shortly after landing in Brazil and was pulled out of the team at the 11th hour.

If that was not heartbreaking enough, Thomas suffered another blow ahead of the 2017 season when he was told he required a hip operation that would keep him sidelined for six months.

But with a year to go until Tokyo 2020, the 30-year-old revealed he has a whole new outlook on the sport he took up after his quest to become a professional rugby player stalled.

And while the former Sale Sharks trialist believes he mentally stronger for his experience three years ago, Thomas insists he will not be taking his place in Team GB squad for granted.

“I won’t be counting any chickens until that green light is gone to be honest, until we have actually started the race, I will definitely be keeping my mouth shut about a lot of things,” he said.

“Rio was a difficult time for me and it did take me a good while to really bounce back from that. I got a lot of supportive messages from successful rowers and other successful sports people.

“They were all saying you have demonstrated you can win medals on the world stage, if you’re going to carry on, we know you can do it and a lot of heartfelt stuff like that.

“A lot of people said to me you’re going to be able to use that fire from missing out in Rio and it’s going to help you and I wondered for a long time how that would manifest itself.

“Would I be sat on the start line and go, ‘This one is for Rio’? but it definitely hasn’t come about like that. It’s been more about know what’s at stake and trying to enjoy the journey as well.

“I feel 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 – but obviously that is the carrot, that’s what I’m chasing.”

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It is not just Thomas’ mindset that has changed since he was last in the midst of an Olympic cycle as he has also swapped the quadruple scull for the double with John Collins.

And although the partnership is still in its early stages, Thomas believes the World Cup medals they won in Poznan and Rotterdam showed they are heading in the right direction.

“The testing came out very favourably that John and I were a very quick combination and I wasn’t in the same boat as him in the last Olympiad but I’ve definitely admired his consistency,” he said.

“The way he delivers in training every single day and he’s probably missed the least training sessions of anybody in the team in the last eight years which is phenomenal.

“Maybe that’s something I’ve been lacking through my career is a little bit of consistency so it’s great to partner up with someone who has that robustness, you know what you’re going to get.”

But before Thomas can turn his attention Tokyo, he and Collins first must overcome the hurdle of the World Championships in Linz-Ottensheim as they attempt to secure an Olympic quota place.

“The mood and the focus is very much on the World Championships which double up as our Olympic qualification regatta, but obviously Tokyo 2020 is in the back of the mind,” he said.

“We have to qualify boats if we want to go to the Olympics and no one in the team is getting ahead of themselves as there is a big job that needs doing at the World Championships first.

“I know for me rowing is a job, and it is my dream job, but I don’t think that takes away anything from just how much I want it or how much it means to me or how special it is.

“The Olympic legacy speaks for itself and everyone’s journey to try and reach it is different but for me it’s always been a very exciting prospect to try and compete at a Games.”

(Only) One Year to Go. Follow the journey to Tokyo 2020 at TeamGB.com and @TeamGB