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Canberra coach the secret behind British success

Paul Thompson would have finished 24th on the London 2012 medal tally if his athletes comprised a country; one spot below South Africa.

The Canberran was responsible for three gold medals and two silvers as head coach of Great Britain's women and lightweight rowers, and the personal coach of the women's double scull duo of Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger.

''That was a pretty spectacular regatta,'' Thompson said of his success, part of a nine-medal haul for the British rowing team, the most a nation has won in rowing since the fall of the Soviet Union. His success came at the expense of Australian gold, our crews forced into second place in the women's pair and double scull by superior performances by their British rivals.

But Thompson insists he wasn't ''poached'' by the Brits as the media loves to report, and was looking for a new challenge. ''I was a coach at the AIS for 12 years, and 10 of those 12 years as a senior coach, coached at three Olympics and was successful, but working within a system and professionally I needed to challenge myself in different ways and get some different experiences as well,'' he said.

Thompson's success at the AIS included coaching Kate Slatter and Megan Still to gold in the coxless pair at the 1996 Games, the first Australian women to win rowing gold.

His new challenge was to help build a system in Britain which could compete with the likes of Australia.


''When I went over, we had the boats underneath a bridge and a motorway, that was before London had the Olympics, years before,'' he said. ''The whole system's been able to evolve, and getting close to what the Australian system had.''

His departure to Britain in 2001 came with the blessing of then AIS director John Boultbee.

''[He] encouraged me to go out and challenge myself in that way in another program abroad,'' Thompson said. ''He reckons I only half listened to him - I got the going away and doing that bit, just not the coming back bit, so hopefully one day that'll work out.''

While he's contracted to continue with the British team to Rio, has ''married a native,'' and taken up dual citizenship, the Canberran is keen to eventually return home.

''Canberra's a really vibrant place and with the lake, it's such a great venue for rowing training, you can do the miles, you've got the course up at Yarramundi Reach, so it's little wonder that Rowing Australia centre their course here and we want to come here on camps as well.''