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Canberra inspires gold rush

He helped create a successful rowing program in Canberra and now Paul Thompson, MBE, is using it to turn Britain into a world powerhouse in the sport.

And one of his London Olympic Games success stories might never have come about if she hadn't lied about her height.

Helen Glover, along with women's coxless pairs partner Heather Stanning, won Britain's first gold medal at last year's Olympics as well as the country's first ever gold in women's rowing.

But Glover had to stand on her toes when her height was measured to even be considered as a rower.

Thompson played a large role in her success as the chief coach for the women's and lightweights squads, becoming a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his efforts.

Despite now living in London, Thompson's links to the nation's capital are steeped in history through his great-grandfather, who was the teacher at Ginninderra Schoolhouse before Canberra existed.


Coincidentally, Canberra's centenary celebrations came in the lead-up to the World Rowing Cup 1, held in Sydney from Friday, allowing him to train his athletes on the ''perfect'' Lake Burley Griffin and take in some of the birthday events.

But he's settled in London and has worked with GB Rowing since 2001.

Thompson coached Australia's women's coxless pairs of Megan Marcks and Kate Slatter to gold at the Atlanta Olympics and then the women's pair to silver at Sydney 2000.

Last year he was the mastermind behind Britain's women's and lightweight squads winning three gold and two silver medals.

The basis of that success started in Canberra after he injured his wrist, which put an end his own rowing career.

''I started my coaching with the talent ID program, which was a pilot program run from the AIS, when I'd just stopped rowing,'' Thompson said.

''So we went to all the schools in Canberra as a pilot program and identified talent and that included me finding Megan in Queanbeyan and I coached her all the way through to be world and Olympic champion.

''Then that program became Talent Search Australia and then the Brits bought it.''

With their training base in England frozen over, Glover and her teammates were loving the chance to train in Australia over the past week.

Staying at ANU, they have been training on the lake, based opposite Australia's National Rowing Centre of Excellence.

Glover said none of the team's success would have been possible without Thompson's guidance.

And her own success wouldn't have been possible without standing on her tippy toes.

A national talent identification program picked up the natural athlete, who represented England in cross-country at junior level, but failed to identify her height of 1.78-metres was ''an inch'' below the requirement.

Lucky, because just four years later she was on the podium accepting gold.

A postbox in her home town of Penzance was painted gold in her honour.

''We had athletes from different ends of each spectrum, there's Katherine Grainger who won gold and it was her fourth time trying, and there was me who won a gold who started rowing four years ago,'' Glover said.

''Yet [Thompson] blended athletes with massive experience with inexperience [to win] gold medals from the same program, so that speaks for itself. And going from no gold medals ever in women's rowing to three in one Games was obviously exceptional from him.''