In the wake of her mother
Eve Thomas will continue a family legacy when she dives into the pool at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre to make her Olympic Games debut on Monday.
The England-born swimmer will represent New Zealand in the 800m and 1500m freestyle and the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo, 37 years after her mum created history by becoming Great Britain’s youngest-ever summer medallist at 15.
Sarah Thomas (ne´ e Hardcastle) was a swimming sensation in the ‘80s. She finished second at the British national championships at just 13, won a silver and bronze at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 and then retired at 17 to live a more ‘‘normal’’ teenage life.
Although she specialised in the 400m freestyle, her personal best time over the 800m is still 13 seconds quicker than her daughter’s – but the 20-year-old has her sights set on bettering mum’s mark in the future.
‘‘Following in mum’s footsteps is awesome, and she’s still faster than me unfortunately,’’ Eve Thomas said.
‘‘She tells me all the time ‘you’re so slow’ but she was insanely fast for her day and age. She’d make an Olympic final now, which, considering she was swimming in the ‘80s, is insane. She was a weapon.’’
Thomas moved to New Zealand with her family when she was three and joined the Coast Swim Club on the Hibiscus Coast.
She said she was never pressured into swimming by her parents at a young age but was always inspired to follow in her mum’s footsteps after watching old videos of her competing on the international stage.
Thomas started training seriously when she was 17 and immediately reaped the rewards.
She moved to Brisbane three years ago to train under the tutelage of leading Australian coach Dean Boxall and alongside Ariarne Titmus at St Peters Western.
‘‘I do get asked a lot about why I started swimming because of mum’s career,’’ she said. ‘‘I was aware of mum being a professional swimmer prior to even starting swimming competitively, I just found it very interesting and loved watching mum’s old races. I think that’s where a lot of motivation came from.
‘‘A lot of people might assume there was a lot of pressure from my parents because of her career but I have three brothers and none of them swim. It was never something I had to do – it was more something that I wanted to do.’’
After experiencing the pressure of competing on the world stage, Thomas said her mum gets too nervous to watch her race. She preferred to stay home and get the results fed to her by one of Thomas’ brothers.
Her mum missed the Gold Coast meet where Thomas punched her ticket for Tokyo by going nine seconds under the 1500m freestyle qualifying time, but she was straight on the phone after the race.
‘‘I rang mum as soon as I finished and we were both sobbing on the phone talking about how exciting it is and how far I’ve come. I couldn’t believe I had actually done it, so it was a surreal moment.
‘‘Dad was crying when I touched the wall and my coaches were screaming, so I knew before I even looked at the board that I’d gone under the time just based on how everyone was reacting.’’
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Thomas’ family was not able to travel to Tokyo to watch her compete at her first Olympics, but knowing how nervous her mum would have been, she said that might be for the best.
‘‘She says it’s harder watching me race than it was her actually racing.
‘‘When it was her racing she could control what happened but when I’m racing it’s out of her control, and she doesn’t like to watch the races.
‘‘I think it’s going to be way too stressful for her. She’ll be waiting for updates rocking back and forth in the other room while the others shout at her how I’m going. It’s so funny to think about.
‘‘Her not being able to come probably takes a bit of pressure off the both of us for this competition. It doesn’t bother me at all.
‘‘Once I’m in the race I’m not thinking about anything other than who is in the lane next to me, how I’m feeling and how I’m going.’’
‘‘She tells me all the time ‘you’re so slow’ but she was insanely fast for her day and age.’’ Eve Thomas on her mother Sarah Thomas (ne´ e Hardcastle)