Paul Thompson is the new Performance Director of Rowing Australia

Coming Home Down Under

2 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 10.11.21

Rowing Australia has announced that Paul Thompson MBE will be their next Performance Director. Fresh from a successful stint as Head Coach of China, Thompson replaces Bernard Savage who led the Australian Rowing Team to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games before moving to Hockey Australia.

With Paris 2024 on the horizon Thompson hopes to build on Australia’s strong performances at Tokyo 2020. Australia placed second on the Olympic medal table and fourth on the Paralympic medal table, returning from Tokyo with two Olympic gold medals, two Olympic bronze medals, and one Paralympic silver medal.

Thompson has an exceptional coaching palmarès and has delivered multiple Olympic and world championship medals for Australia, Great Britain and China. One of his earliest achievements was coaching Kate Slatter and Megan Still to an Olympic gold medal in the women’s pair at Atlanta 1996. Thompson’s most recent success comes from the Chinese women’s quad who topped the podium at Tokyo 2020.

As a former Australian U23 silver medallist who began his coaching career at the Australian Institute of Sport in the 1990s, Paul Thompson is well known to the Australian rowing community. He has coached medal-winning crews at every Olympic Games since 1996. Twice he has delivered a nation’s first women’s Olympic rowing gold, initially for Australia, and again (as a chief coach) for Great Britain at London 2012. After almost two decades with Great Britain Thompson left British Rowing in December 2018. During his tenure Thompson coached his squads to become the top performing women’s rowing nation at both London 2012 and Rio 2016. He led the British women and lightweights to three golds and two silver medals at London 2012. Those medals alone were enough to top the London 2012 Olympic rowing medal-table even without the British heavyweight men’s results.

It will be the first time Thompson has held the role of Performance Director but with over 30 years of international coaching and leadership experience, including work with Great Britain Hockey, Thompson is well positioned to guide Australia on their Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic campaign. Olympic champion Lucy Stephan said, “I’m excited for the future of rowing in Australia. As a young athlete training in Canberra during the Rio cycle the 1996 and 2000s women’s pair, coached by Tommo (Paul Thompson) was regularly discussed and admired. He coached Still and Slatter to Australia’s first female gold. He obviously has a wealth of knowledge in regards to the rowing stroke but you don’t have as many successful campaigns as he has had without understanding athlete management and performance.”

Rowing Australia President Rob Scott was amongst the first to congratulate Thompson on his appointment. “On behalf of the Board, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Paul as he takes on the role of Performance Director with Rowing Australia. Paul is highly credentialed and a well-regarded professional with a strong track record of success.” Scott said, “It is pleasing to see Paul return to Australia and now lead our High-Performance program, and for a new generation of rowers and coaches to benefit from his international experience. We see opportunities for growth and development across our Men’s, Women’s and Para Rowing programs and we are confident Paul will add a lot of value across our entire program, from the pathways to the elite level”.

Rowing Australia CEO Ian Robson said Thompson’s appointment to the role of Performance Director was an important step for the organisation on the path to Paris. “There is no denying Tokyo was an historic moment in time for Australian rowing, but with a shortened three-year cycle we must quickly turn our attention to Paris 2024 with ambitious goals to sustain and strengthen our Tokyo standings,” Robson said. “Our high-performance program will benefit from Paul’s strong leadership skills and coaching acumen.”

Incoming Performance Director Paul Thompson said: “It is a great privilege and honour to be appointed the next Performance Director of Rowing Australia.

“Australia enjoys a rich tradition of success in rowing, evidenced most recently by the results achieved at World Championships and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. I was sitting in the stands in Tokyo when Australia’s two gold and two bronze medals came through and it was fabulous to see the emotion, strong teamwork and connectedness of the crews, their coaches and support staff.

“It is a huge responsibility to lead and evolve Rowing Australia’s High-Performance program as we embark on a shortened Paris cycle. I’m excited and looking forward to working with a quality team of athletes, coaches and support staff.  The positive culture that we saw in Tokyo will be crucial to Australia maintaining its strong world rankings.

“As a first matter of business, I want to reconnect and re-engage with the Australian rowing community. This is my first time working in Australia in over 20 years and I respect the system has changed over time.

“I am passionate about engaging athletes, coaches and support staff at all levels of the pathway to prepare our programs for success in the long-term. There are firsts in our sport that Australia is still to achieve. I want to see Rowing Australia win its first Paralympic gold medal and our first gold medal at a home Olympics, when the Games come to Brisbane in 2032.”