Quick-fire questions with Graeme Thomas

Athlete Interview

2 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 14.12.21

Fresh from a fourth-place finish at Tokyo 2020, Olympian Graeme Thomas returned to his hometown in Henley and won the Diamond Challenge Sculls at 2021 Henley Royal Regatta. Thomas takes time out to answer thirteen quick-fire questions.

Photo Graeme Thomas represents Agecroft Rowing Club at Henley Royal Regatta
Credit Benedict Tufnell
Great performance at Henley – how was it?

Thank you, I enjoyed it. Wednesday’s training paddle was fun, it was nice to have a laugh and interact with the other crews on the water, especially after the seriousness of the Games. George Bourne was a tough reintroduction to racing the single. The final itself brought out my best sculling and it felt nice to be back in the single with all the feedback that boat gives and the personal nature of 1-on-1 racing, particularly with the way Seb (Devereux) attacked the race.

Photo Seb Devereux represents Leander Club at 2021 Henley Royal Regatta
Credit Benedict Tufnell
Why enter?

When I saw the regatta had moved my first thought was the Diamonds. I’ve focused on crew sculling since 2012 but it’s an event I’ve always wanted to win. Career misfortunes have taught me to seize these opportunities when they present themselves. Having been so highly peaked for Tokyo, contending with jet lag and having heavy legs in the run-in to Henley I questioned my decision; how might a poor performance reflect on me or add to the disappoint of fourth place at Tokyo? But I showed the event and the other competitors my full respect by diving back into a full program and clocking up 150-kilometres the week before.

Photo Graeme Thomas represents Agecroft Rowing Club at Henley Royal Regatta
Credit Benedict Tufnell
What was Tokyo like?

I’m incredibly grateful that the whole thing went ahead. I’m thankful to the Japanese people, the IOC and everyone who helped make it happen. I waited so long to pull on the Olympic rings, race for Team GB and call myself an Olympian. The constant fear of testing positive made it difficult to enjoy but getting out on the lake was a welcome break. It was a chance to forget about covid and focus on the task at hand. John and I didn’t exactly hit the ground running, our heat was disappointing but we stepped on in the semifinal and A-Final. It was tough to see the margins from the races earlier in the season open up, it left us scratching our heads as to where we’d lost ground.

Why rowing?

Most sports are delivering a skill under physical duress but rowing takes that to the extreme and that appeals to me. I love being outside and getting to see the wildlife on the river adds to the enjoyment.

Favourite place to row and why?

I’ve been privileged to row all over the world with some incredible backdrops, Varese and Silvretta spring to mind but there’s no place like home; the hustle and bustle of the Manchester shipping canal has to be number one.

Best race?

Any of the world cup wins in the Rio Olympiad, that M4x was a special boat when it was going well.

Worst race?

2014 World Rowing Championship in Amsterdam. It is both the best and worst race in one. Those special opportunities don’t come around often. Breaking the world best time and coming away with a silver medal was amazing but to miss that world title by 0.08 will always haunts me: What could we have done differently to overturn that margin?

Biggest strength as a rower?


What would you like to be better at?

2km ergo tests

Favourite session?

Side-by-side pieces off the start

Least favourite?

The mileage you do before pieces that the coaches call a warmup even though it is extra to the race warmup. I’d rather do it after the pieces.

What do you like to do when not rowing?

If I’m not planning my next bikepacking adventure then I’m probably cycling, freediving, hiking or stand-up paddle boarding. If I have to rest it’s reading or gaming.

Best piece of rowing advice you’ve been given?

Hamish Burrell said, everyone has excuses, even the race winner has excuses, but they don’t need to use them. I try to think about that when I’m in my boat and I put any hardship I have to one side and try to win regardless. It doesn’t always work but normally it produces the best outcome.