Graeme Thomas climbed out of his boat and wiped away tears after finally becoming an Olympian. The Preston oarsman was picked to compete in the Rio Games five years ago and flew out to Brazil with Team GB.
But he fell ill before the competition, was forced to withdraw from the quadruple sculls, and came home without punching his ticket at the five-ringed circus.
Thomas wasted no time setting the record straight as the rowing regatta got underway yesterday before even the lighting of the Olympic flame.
In morning sunshine he and John Collins made it through to the semi-finals in the double sculls, finishing second behind the Dutch. It was then he let it all out.
“There were definitely tears behind the sunglasses,” Thomas admitted. “Very emotional to be honest.” He had waited so long to erase the memory of Rio and having to pull out four days before what should have been the biggest day of his life.
And the fact it was a flu-like virus that brought him down back then kept his stress levels high all the way to the start line.
Thomas said: “I am not going to lie, there has definitely been a bit of anxiety in the few weeks leading in and especially with the added Covid factor on top.
“With it being a virus in 2016, it does exacerbate the fear of something going wrong again. So it is a big relief to get that out of the way and to be able to call myself an Olympian.”
First onto the course at Tokyo’s Sea Forest Waterway was Vicky Thornley, going it alone after partnering Katherine Grainger to silver in the women’s double sculls in Rio.
The Welsh rower covered the 2,000m course in 7:44.30, easily winning her heat, before encasing herself in a hi-tech ice jacket to reduce her core temperature.
She said: “I want to be at my best as an athlete at these Olympics and I think I’ve got everything in place for that to be the case.
“I have five years of experience since Rio, that’s a lot. But there’s a lot of good scullers so I am going to have to be at my best to challenge for a medal.”
Rowing and Archery heats were the only two events (aside from football) to get up and running before Friday afternoon’s Opening Ceremony – which officially kick starts the 29th Olympiad.