Rupert Guinness at Champion Lakes Regatta Centre

Rowing Australia Performance Director Paul Thompson MBE is urging Australian Rowing Team (ART) members to cast aside any lingering pressures of selection when they line up to race at the 2023 Australian Rowing Championships in Armadale, near Perth.

There are still some boat combinations to be settled in the ART that was named after trials in Penrith. But Thompson said any decisions will not be informed by performances at Champion Lakes Regatta Centre from Monday, March 27 to Sunday, April 2.

Thompson said any adjustments to the squad will be made in the World Cup regattas leading up to the World Championships in Belgrade in September, a regatta that will also determine boat qualification for the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024.

Thompson, who took up position as Rowing Australia’s Performance Director in December 2021 after three years as head coach of the Chinese rowing team following a long stint coaching with Great Britain, wants ART members to unshackle their inhibitions and race for their club and states.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to race for their clubs and their state race … that’s a very passionate and fabulous part of Australian rowing and one that’s really set in its DNA,” Thompson said on Sunday of a regatta that includes the Australian Open, Schools and Interstate Championships.

“That [national] selection sits outside [the championships] … it’s out of the way. They can race for themselves. We’re not using the Nationals for [final] selections. That’ll be done through training and the World Cup Series.” 

Thompson said any pressure that rowers feel during the coming week will only be what they put on themselves in trying to win a national title and represent their state or club.

That’s a very passionate and fabulous part of Australian rowing and one that’s really set in its DNA.

Rowing Australia Performance Director Paul Thompson

“There’s the giddy heights of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and the World Championships, but to be the best in the country is fundamental to all that,” he said.

Thompson started his coaching career at the Australian Institute of Sport in the 1988. His return to Australia followed 18 years coaching in Great Britain and then China to much success on Olympic and World Championship fronts. He then joined the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) as Senior High-Performance Manager before joining RA.

Throughout his time away, Thompson always kept one eye on Australian boats. “In the UK, you always took an interest,” Thompson said. “You grew up here, you’re Australian. You always followed from afar. And, of course, the crews that you were dealing with, you wanted to win; but then always part of you wanted the next crew to be an Australian one.

“We’ve got Paris [Olympics and Paralympics] next year, then Los Angeles (2028) and Brisbane (2032) are only just around the corner. So, there’s plenty of plenty of work to do and plenty of opportunities for Australian rowers and Australian rowing.”

Thompson said the short turn-around between Tokyo in 2021 and Paris next year was a factor that he has taken into consideration in planning for the 2024 Games.

“If Tokyo was a marathon (with its postponement from 2020 to 2021), Paris is a sprint. We’ve had to pretty much do a four-year cycle in three,” Thompson said.

“The first two years of a (cycle) is where people take time outs and new people come in. We’ve got some returning Olympians and some new people coming into the team.  

“And this year is the qualification [of boats for the Games]. We need to be real about how tough that is, how deep racing is going to be. 

“Effectively, you need to be in a medal zone to get the qualification slot. We’ve got some good athletes who should be optimistic, but we also need to be feet on the ground and realistic about what’s ahead of us.”