James Thompson and John Smith react after competing. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Retiring as the most decorated South African rower, Olympic gold medallist James Thompson has every reason to be content with is career achievements.

Thompson’s career may have ended with bitter disappointment at the Rio Olympics but he drew the curtain on an illustrious career, winning a medal at every major championship.

“I think the main reason for retiring is I’ve achieved everything that I could ever have dreamt of achieving and a fair amount more,” Thompson said at his Rock the Boat regatta at Roodeplaat Dam on Saturday.

“I’d like to try some new challenges in my life, I’d like to try a different path, I started very young at the age of 16 and by the age of 18 I was virtually a full-time professional.

“I’ve got the full house as I like to call it, every international level of rowing that I’ve raced at I’ve won a medal.”

Making his international debut in 2003, he won bronze at the World Rowing Junior Championships in the coxed four before winning Under-23 silver medals in the lightweight men’s pair with Matthew Brittain.

Brittain and Thompson made the transition to senior rowing with aplomb, winning the Olympic gold in the lightweight men’s four at London 2012 with Sizwe Ndlovu and John Smith.

Two years after making history at the Games, Thompson and Smith won South Africa's maiden world title in the lightweight double sculls boat in a world-best time of 6:05.36 in the Netherlands.

“Of course the Olympic gold is the highlight but for me Amsterdam was more special to win gold and break the record there which still stands, that was more special because of the hardship we’ve had up to that point,” Thompson said.

“The four in the Olympic year went our way, whereas in Amsterdam absolutely nothing went our way except the last week.

“We really battled in the quarter-final, we really battled in the semi-final, then we had the race of our lives in a final that we probably shouldn’t have been in which is really special.”

Getting his first taste for rowing in high school, Thompson soon conjured up a long-term plan, which included two Olympic cycles.

True to his tenacious spirit, he achieved almost every single goal he set out as a teenager to the amazement of his family and friends.

“My sister used to get lank upset because she didn’t know what she was going to do next week and I had a 16-year plan,” Thompson said. “I really had a 16-year plan, my goals never really ended in London, my goals always included 2016 and to call it a day after Rio (Games) was also fitting of that plan.

“I’d like to give back to rowing in other ways such as Rock the Boat and possibly one day even coach, but I will see where life takes me.”

Thompson admits finishing fourth at the Rio Olympics with Smith in the lightweight double sculls was the lowest point of his career.

"My decision to retire may have affected Rio, but Rio has not affected my retirement," Thompson said.

"I got onto the water in Rio knowing it will be my last international race. I had already decided that.

“We’ve raced our entire lives going for gold and we could have settled for a safe silver in Rio, and we both live happy knowing we didn’t settle for a safe silver.

“We put it all out there to go after France and we paid the price putting in the extra step. We went into what we call the ‘munkle’ which is crazy rowing and wild.

“We went into that zone, I called it, without realising John was already in that zone, and it was my mistake not being able to read him.”

To celebrate his new-found freedom, Thompson and his wife, Carolyn, will this week set off on an overland trip through Africa and Europe where they hope to make it in time for the Tour de France in July.

The Star