Rowing ace Graeme Thomas is taking inspiration from Freddie Flintoff as he looks to emulate his fellow Prestonian by opening up new sporting avenues for the city’s youngsters, writes Paul Martin.
Thomas, 33, was gripped by the former cricketer’s Field of Dreams TV show which saw him introduce the sport to a band of teenagers from deprived backgrounds, many of whom had never played or watched the sport before.
The single sculler recognises similar barriers to access within his sport and is determined to play his part in knocking them down close to home.
“There is no rowing scene in Preston,” he said. “It’s a shame, as we have a docklands, and I’ve seen from doing a bit of digging that there used to be rowing regattas in the 1800s, so there is a history of the sport in the city.
“I didn’t know anything about rowing growing up but I was lucky, I went to university and discovered it there.
“Realistically, not all kids in Preston will have that opportunity so we have to do more to raise awareness of what is possible and what can be achieved.
“Rowing has opened up so many doors for me and it would be great to think that could happen for others growing up where I did.
“It was brilliant to see Freddie’s programme and the impact that had on the kids involved. I might need to boost my profile if I was going to do anything similar but it’s certainly something to consider longer-term.”
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Thomas was a whisker away from an Olympic medal in the double sculls last summer but has another chance to make a name for himself at the upcoming World Championships.
Having switched to the single sculls, he finished fifth in a thrilling European final last month following a build-up hampered by illness and hopes to build on his Munich display.
“Everyone keeps telling me the final was an amazing race but it was frustrating to miss out on a podium and get beaten by someone I’ve beaten all year,” he added.
“But I was right in the mix until the very end and given it wasn’t the ideal run-in, I did OK.
“I’ve been fit and healthy since the Europeans, and done every stroke I’m supposed to have done.
“I think a smooth run into Worlds will make all the difference and a medal has to be the goal.”
British Rowing is the governing body for the sport and is responsible for the development of rowing in England and the training and selection of rowers to represent Great Britain. The GB Rowing Team is supported by the National Lottery Sports Fund. To find out more, and to follow the ongoing World Championships in Racice, head to https://www.britishrowing.org/