#IOLYMPICS - Thompson, Smith in tune with each other
Sport / 3 August 2016, 09:58am / Ockert De Villiers
Although James Thompson seems to have his life planned out he did not expect the turn it's taken in the four years since winning the men’s lightweight coxless four gold medal at the London 2012 Games.
Soon after taking his first stroke of the oar, Thompson had a 12-year plan mapped out in his head that would culminate in an Olympic gold medal.
The world was left stunned after the unheralded crew of Thompson, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and Sizwe Ndlovu claimed the title.
Their success was the catalyst for the elite rowing squad’s dramatic growth with the squad qualifying five boats for the Rio Games.
While Thompson had everything planned up to that point, what would happen over the next four years caught him by surprise.
”There is no ways I would have thought that we’d put a campaign together in the lightweight double and the level that we have raced it, I would never have called that in London,” Thompson said.
“I would have thought we would get home and keep on developing the four but obviously this is the journey where it took us.”
The retirement of Matt Brittain due to a persistent back injury was a blow to the team, and ultimately resulted in the team’s demise at the end of 2013.
With the lightweight fours no longer considered strong medal contenders, national rowing coach Roger Barrow opted for a lightweight double sculls boat.
Thompson and Smith gravitated towards the men’s lightweight double sculls and made an extraordinary transition from sweep-oar rowing.
They stroked to a gold medal in a world-best time if 6:05.360 at the 2014 World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam.
“It is amazing and I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to scull at the level I am at the moment, and it is just awesome to get here and have a shot and a sniff at the dream,” Thompson said in Rio yesterday.
Since making his international debut in 2003, Thompson has won a medal at every major regatta.
He won the bronze medal on debut as a member of the coxed four at the World Rowing Junior Championships before winning two silver medals at the Under-23 World Championships in the lightweight pair.
Smith in turn won a gold medal in the men’s pair at the 2010 Under-23 World Championships before his London 2012 title winning row.
“There is a bit of an art to it but that energy and emotion is something John and I are good at on the big stage but it has come at different times,” Thompson said.
“Sometimes you’re both on form and in training but it is about your partnership and developing that, and John and I are confident about what we have done over the last couple of weeks. We are quietly excited about where we are and what we are achieving in training day by day.”
The country’s two iconic rowers have naturally built a strong bond over the last few years, spending hours in the same boat perfecting their stroke and conquering the waters.
“Sometimes I feel I am cheating on John with my wife (Carolyn), when she and I get a bit of time together, because we've been on camp for so long now this year,” Thompson quipped when asked about his time away from his wife.
“The reality is I’ve been away from home for something like 20 weeks since November last year but it really has been a high focus and dedicated time.
“It is great to have the support of my wife, and the support of my family but, yes, we’ve been away an awful lot.” – The Star