The decision to retire from anything in life is never easy. Take a moment, then, to put yourself in Australian rowing legend and MCC member James Tomkins’ rather large shoes.
Having competed in his sixth consecutive Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, the 45-year-old was set to break an Australian record for the most Olympic appearances if he went on to compete at the London Games in 2012. Not a decision to take lightly.
Two years out from London, Tomkins announced to the media in September that it was time to stow away the oar and focus on other things in his life.
During a rare quiet moment at the MCG in late-October, he reflected on the rationale for the toughest decision of his career.
“After each Olympics, in the back of your mind there’s always this notion that you’re going to go to another one,” he said.
“After Beijing that wasn’t the case. I’d be 47 or 48 in two years’ time, so if I was going to go to London it would be difficult and there was never that feeling in the back of my mind. I’d love to do it, it would be fantastic and physically I reckon I still could, but I didn’t want to have to commit to absolutely everything.”
The big man confidently affirms he has no regrets over his 24-year career, and with his stellar success and long list of achievements including three Olympic gold medals, one bronze and seven world championship wins, it’s no surprise.
Without taking one win away from another, Tomkins nominates his first gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, alongside Mike McKay, Nick Green and Andrew Cooper, as his career highlight.
Aside from competing, the opportunity to lead Australia out as flag bearer at the Beijing Olympics was another cherished moment.
“Carrying the flag in the opening ceremony in China was an absolute highlight,” he said. “It was a huge honour to lead a team full of champions and present them to the world.”
Interestingly, he admits that being “single-minded, focused and the selfishness that goes with that” will be the foremost thing he will miss about competing. As James explains, “to be able to have a legitimate reason to put your life on hold and just focus on one thing, and have everyone around you help you do that, is incredibly selfish and it’s fantastic!”
So what now for life after rowing? Whilst staying connected to the sport through coaching is not something James sees himself doing in the short term, his desire to be a mentor to young rowers is admirable.
Along with his family and a love of golf, which includes part-owning the Yarra Bend Golf Course and driving range, there’s plenty to keep him occupied, including a full-time job in the finance industry.
Retirement also allows James to make the most of his MCC membership and enjoy the facilities throughout the Reserve. He has also promised to return two of his medals to the National Sports Museum, which are on loan but were borrowed back last year.
“I reckon the National Sports Museum is fantastic, he said. “It’s amazing. The work that’s been done over the last few years is extraordinary.”
James’ sporting talents don't end with rowing.
He was selected by Melbourne in the 1989 VFL pre-season draft at pick number 27 as a ruckman, after competing in the Seoul Olympics. Despite impressing the Dees and having a stint in the Crimmins Squad at Hawthorn, his passion resided in rowing.
He has also proven handy with the cricket ball, clean bowling Justin Langer on the MCG in Shane Warne’s Twenty20 charity match in 2007.
“He hit my first ball for a six and then the next for four,” Tomkins recalled enthusiastically.
“Ian Healy was umpiring and I asked him where the hell to bowl. As I was getting a bit of inswing, his advice was to land the ball in the little brown patch near his feet. Unbelievably it landed there and swung and he tried to hit me out of the park, but I clean bowled him!”
Given their recent fortunes, perhaps James could take a spot in the Australian lineup on Boxing Day!