Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Tom Barras was inspired to take up the sport at Burway Rowing Club after watching the 2004 Olympic Games. Ed Evans from Junior Rowing News finds out more
Great Britain remains one of the most successful nations in rowing, and much of that success can be attributed to the ‘oarsome foursomes’ of decades past. Still, with British sculling coming to the fore, junior men and women alike can look forward to a successful senior career with a blade in both hands, as Tom Barras seeks to prove.
Having had a mixed junior and under-23 experience, Barras catapulted to fame alongside his crewmates in the quad with a stunning silver at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo, becoming the most successful GB boat at the 2020 Olympic Games. We caught up with Tom to discuss his journey to the top, his tips for aspiring juniors, and what his plans are for the coming years…
“Watching the 2004 Games just made rowing seem like a great sport to get involved with,” Tom recalls as we sit down to discuss his career.
“My mum said she reckoned I might be a good fit for the boat, and so we just went down to our local club, Burway, to find out more… it was there I really fell in love with the sport.”
“We got down to the river late one afternoon, and Jim and Clive – two of the volunteer coaches – were locking up the club. They could have gone home there and then, but instead chatted to me, opened everything up again and got me on the rowing machine.”
For Tom, and I’m sure many more of us, it’s this unique sense of community that lures us into a lifetime of rowing. Very few other sports boast a battalion of volunteers who readily surrender their time to help eager juniors get their first taste of rowing and stay with them as they progress up the ranks.
“I’d love to be fighting for gold in 2024”
“Because I started young, I was fairly successful in those early years – it always helps to win!” he quips. “Then in 2012 I went down to Dorney and watched one of the races; it was a truly magical experience. After that, I caught the bug.”
Tom never recovered from the infectious nature of rowing and went on to be a part of the national squad at every level, with varying levels of success.
“The trials process for juniors is a test of who can survive. Race after race after race, again and again for three days straight; still after that, my junior years weren’t hugely successful.”
“Reflecting on those years as an under-23, I felt I underperformed. When we went to the World Championships, we were the only boat not to have a spare, so had to scratch when one of our crewmates fell ill.”
However, when Tom made the move into the senior squad, a switch flicked and he quickly became one of the nation’s top male scullers.
“The year 2017 was fantastic – this is where I need to pay testament to our coaches. They did a fantastic job with me, and taught me the two most important things I’ve learned in my career, from a technical perspective: it’s all about distance-per-stroke and time underwater.”
“The truth is that rowing is accessible to most people, you just need to know where to look”
Indeed, when asked what advice he would give to aspiring juniors, these two technical pillars were Tom’s answers.
“Just look at the Greek sculler [gold medallist Stefanos Ntouskos] in Tokyo,” he adds, “the amount of time his blades spent underwater was so much higher than any of his competition.”
“To come away from the World Champs in 2017 with a bronze medal was really special. It felt like it was all finally coming together.”
After another few years of up-and-down performances in the quad and single, Tom found his true rhythm in the Tokyo quad.
“Being the first British men’s quad to win a medal at the Olympics was unbelievable, and hopefully it shows that you don’t have to switch to sweep to win medals.”
“LA isn’t in my sights, and it was 50/50 on Paris before Tokyo, but watching our race back made me really want to stay on. There’s plenty of work we can do. I’d love to be fighting for gold in 2024, rather than scrapping for silver or bronze.”
As we neared the end of our discussion around a remarkable journey to an Olympic silver, Tom took a moment to look beyond the confines of the international circuit and reflect on what makes our sport so unique.
“In the minds of most people, when they think about rowing, they think about the Boat Race, Henley, and blazers. But the truth is that rowing is accessible to most people, you just need to know where to look.”
Photos: David Pearce