While James Tomkins, the greatest Olympic sweep rower ever produced by Australia, acknowledges other countries will take to the water, men’s rowing at the London Games is all about Australia against Britain.
Tomkins was an original member of Australia’s “Oarsome Foursome” and retired in 2010 with a trophy case of Olympic gold medals from the Barcelona, Atlanta and Athens Games, along with a bronze from Sydney.
Now an executive with Swiss bank UBS in Melbourne, the 46-year-old predicts a fierce battle between the hosts and Australia at Eton Dorney to match the famous cricketing rivalry between the two countries.
“In a third of the races it’s going to be us or the Poms,” Tomkins said.
“A real battle of the Ashes ... It could be great for us, or really poor for us,” he added.
“The British are very strong and that’s on the back of a massive amount of funding they’ve put into the sport,” he said. “We saw pretty good funding going into Sydney in 2000, but we’ve pretty much stayed stagnant since then.”
Tomkins finally called it a day after his sixth Games in Beijing four years ago, but his final medal came in the men’s coxless pair in Athens, when he won gold alongside Drew Ginn.
Ginn, now 37, rowed on and in London will target his fourth gold medal in as many Olympic appearances as he lines up with Joshua Dunkley-Smith, James Chapman and Will Lockwood in the coxless four.
Australia and Britain have won gold in the last five Olympics in the event, Britain taking the last three, and both teams have made it a priority boat for the London Games.
In Beijing, Australia came close to pulling off an upset before being out-rowed by the British men’s four in the final 200m.
“This time around, the British are again very strong,” added Tomkins, who believes the famously unpredictable British weather could also be factor.
“For starters it’s England,” he said. “The wind is going to be up and the course can be quite exposed.”