By Oliver Lees
Former Woodend resident Ria Thompson has etched her name in Olympic history, after her team came from behind to claim the bronze in the women’s quadruple scull rowing event in Tokyo.
The Australian team was sitting in fifth place at the halfway mark of the 2000 metre race, but was able to climb into third position after Germany suffered a major setback within the last minute of the race.
The German’s were sitting comfortably in second position but came almost to a complete stop after one of their team members missed a row.
The favourites China took out gold and Poland silver.
Thompson told Star Weekly it was her job to make the call for her team to push up into a medal position in the crucial last 10 rows of the race.
“A big part of my role is being aware of what is happening in the race, making the call of when to push hard and when to hold off, it’s really important for everyone else at the other end of the boat to know those things,” Thompson said.
“This has been my first year being the caller and I’ve really loved that responsibility. Every time I make a call I know my team trusts me and I can trust them.
“Because it was so close to the end of the race I barely had any breath, so I was just yelling ‘Go! Go! Go!’ and they knew we had a chance.
“When we got to the finish line, I was in total disbelief. All I was thinking was, ‘what just happened?’”
It was a strong showing for Thompson and her bronze-winning team of Harriet Hudson, Rowena Meredith and Caitlin Cronin, who almost failed to qualify for the final.
The team finished fourth in their first heat which forced them to compete in the second ‘repechage’ heat to earn the spot.
But they’re second heat was far more successful, as they cruised to a first place finish.
“We were disappointed after our first effort, I think with all the pressure and the cameras we couldn’t really get into our rhythm,” she said.
“We row technically really well, so that was our focus, to go back to basics with our technique. I had this feeling that someone was going to make a mistake and I was sure it wasn’t going to be us.”
As a child, Thompson attended Woodend Primary School and Braemar College and was an eager participant at Woodend Little Athletics.
She credits her family and specifically her relationship with her brother, Kieran, for fostering her competitive spirit in those formative years.
“Growing up in Woodend I didn’t even know what rowing was, but being so competitive with my brother, I thought I could give it a try to find something I could beat him at,” she said.
“The support from everyone in the last few days has been completely overwhelming. I spent six hours replying to messages on social media after the race.
“The whole thing has been a surreal experience. I’m especially thankful to my friends and family. And to be surrounded by so many incredible Australian athletes is something I will always treasure.”