World standard in rowing

Year 12 student Fergus Hamilton is a world champion rower. Director of Rowing Tom Abramowski coached him to the top. Here are their stories.

Fergus and his team mate, Cormac Kennedy-Leverett from Brisbane, were coached to their victory by Mr Tom Abramowski, Melbourne Grammar School’s Director of Rowing. Here, Fergus and Tom outline their journey to the top.

Fergus Hamilton

“I was 12 when I rowed for the first time. It was in a dam on a farm and I remember it clearly because I saw a snake swimming next to me. That didn’t bother me. I’ve loved rowing from the start.

I’ve rowed competitively since early secondary school years, but I became more serious about it when I came to Melbourne Grammar in Year 9 as a boarder.

As Captain of Boats this year, I played a key role in how the Boat Shed runs. I want the boys to fall in love with the sport, like me. It’s important that I show younger students that it is possible to enjoy rowing and win at the same time.

At the end of 2016, I had an idea that I would like to try racing at an elite level. I spoke with Tom and my parents and we all agreed that I should go for it. I’m pretty goal focused, but there was no rush because I’m a year younger than my peer group. We knew I could take the time to enjoy the process.

I was chosen to represent Australia through trials and matched with Cormac for the Double Sculls race. Given Cormac lived in Queensland, I did a lot of training by myself. In the months leading up to the World Championships, I was out on the water in a single scull early most mornings. I had trained for two hours before most people were out of bed.

Of course, being in Year 12, I still had to keep up with my school work. Living in the boarding house really helped me find the balance between school work and rowing. I’d often row after school until around 6pm, have dinner, then study during the set time for homework each evening when the house is quiet and everyone else is studying as well. It was hard work, but satisfying.

I don’t think I would have got to be where I did without Tom Abramowski. Tom kept me on track. I like his style of coaching. He is very direct. He pushes me but we get along pretty well.

Preparation for World Championship Final started well before the regatta itself. Cormac and I only rowed together for around three weeks before the Championships but we made the most of the opportunities we had.

Tom made sure we spent a lot of time strengthening our focus so the process we needed to follow in the race became second nature.

When the race started, I was nervous but I knew what I had to do and when I had to do it. I became confident at the 1000-yard (halfway) point when it became clear to me that we were in front.

It was great to win but it’s not the end of the journey for me. I still love rowing and I intend to keep racing at an elite level for as long as I can.”


Tom Abramowski

“I developed a great love for rowing at school so, at university, I looked for an opportunity to maintain my involvement in the sport. Coaching was a natural solution and I continue to enjoy it to this day. Working with young athletes who are just as passionate as I am about rowing, and helping them achieve their goals, is very rewarding.

I started coaching Fergus three years ago when came into senior rowing programme at Melbourne Grammar School. Although it was clear that he had a natural gift for rowing, there was no rush in the process of coaching him. It was important to let him enjoy the sport by rowing with his mates and coming through the natural cycle.

Fergus has height, strength, and an amazing physical capacity on his side. We were able to exploit this to give him an edge in racing, but physical attributes will only get you so far. I think it is Fergus’s emotional maturity and strong problem-solving ability that makes the real difference. To be as successful as Fergus, an elite athlete has to be able to make quick, smart decisions in races and during training. Fergus also had to find a balance in managing his schoolwork and training programme. This comes down to character.

A good deal of my coaching focused on building mental strength and enhancing Fergus’ decision-making capabilities. This involves recreating possible race scenarios in training over and over again, until the confidence, composure, and capability to deal with them is built. For this to succeed, there has to be a great deal of trust between an athlete and his coach. 

Fergus has been brave enough to discuss the areas about which he had concerns. This meant I could help him with tools and strategies to deal with those concerns.

The training programme leading up to the World Championships was a significant step up compared to the normal rowing programme in terms of intensity and focus. The sessions were very performance orientated – there was nowhere to hide. Fergus spent a good deal of time rowing by himself during each session, but still consistently maintained motivation and effort. That was a significant achievement.

I was excited but fairly calm before the Championship race. I knew Fergus and Cormac could win. They had built the physical and emotional capabilities to do so; it was just a matter of putting it all into practice.

My own life is a balance between coaching and engineering. In addition to being employed as the Melbourne Grammar School Director of Rowing, I work as an engineer managing major gas projects. I am fortunate to have two good employers who allow me the flexibility to engage with both aspects of my working life. The commitment to rowing tends to be higher over summer, so I am more focused on that during that period. During winter, engineering comes more to the front.

It can be tough to manage the workload at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Coaching Fergus and Cormac to a world championship was a great privilege.”

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