James Tomkins, competing in his sixth Olympic Games, was Australia’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. At 43, he had hoped to add another medal to his glittering career, this time as a member of Australia’s eight - but the crew placed last in its final. That result in no way affected Tomkins’ stellar reputation. As an Oarsome Foursome veteran, triple Olympic gold medallist and winner of seven world championships (and the only rower to win world titles in every sweep-oared event), he deserves to be regarded as Australia’s greatest living rower.
A gifted all-round sportsman, he learned to row at Carey Grammar School, Melbourne, under the coaching of Noel Donaldson, who would later become his mentor at Olympic level. He was a member of the Australian eight which won the world championship in 1986, but finished a disappointing fifth in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He later rowed with Mike McKay, Nick Green and Andrew Cooper, as the Oarsome Foursome, to win the coxless fours gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. With Drew Ginn replacing Andrew Cooper in the boat, the Foursome won a second gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.
After the Foursome broke up, Tomkins and Drew Ginn rowed as a pair, winning the 1999 world title. When injury caused Ginn to withdraw, Tomkins paired at short notice with the eights emergency Matthew Long at the 2000 Games - and incredibly they won bronze. In 2002 Tomkins and Ginn agreed to team up again and try for the Athens 2004 Games. Their victory in that event made Tomkins the most decorated Australian rower of all time.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian