This weekend, Jack Beaumont was due to be racing with the junior boys at a regatta for his old rowing club in Maidenhead. Instead, he will be lining up on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in his first Olympic Games.
Beaumont will be doing so after unexpectedly replacing one of his best friends, almost a year to the day after an accident that he feared would leave him unable to walk, never mind row.
“I was supposed to be going to race with the junior boys at my old club – Maidenhead Rowing Club. There’s a regatta this weekend but I’ve had to let them down. I’m sure they’ll understand,” a deadpan Beaumont said on Wednesday, standing by the water at the picturesque venue where he will now form part of the men’s quadruple scull when they begin their bid for gold on Saturday.
The British Rowing performance director, Sir Dave Tanner, who had to make the difficult call on whether to replace the stricken Graeme Thomas, who fell ill with flu-like symptoms after arriving in Brazil, said the decision was taken on the advice of team medics.
“Medically he had 60 hours of being really very ill and he’s a very fit man,” Tanner said. “The judgment was that frankly to ask him to compete at a very intense race within three or four days of feeling better was not right for himself.
“That was our first duty of care but also there was the risk that he wouldn’t be at his best anyway so therefore we have to look after the three athletes in the boat and we did have the super sub.”
Team GB’s answer to Steve Heighway was sitting on the toilet on Sunday, perhaps contemplating that regatta in Maidenhead and beyond that the World University Games in September, when he got the call from Tanner.
Within 22 hours Beaumont was on a plane to Rio, still unsure whether he would be replacing Thomas in the boat alongside Peter Lambert, Sam Townsend and Angus Groom.
He had been devastated to miss out on a place in the team to begin with, following his recovery from a training collision on the water with an eight that left him with four fractured vertebrae, two broken ribs and a torn hip flexor muscle.
The decision to leave him at home had been taken on entirely unsentimental performance grounds and, despite the emotion involved, so was the tough decision to stand Thomas down.
“It’s heartbreaking for Graeme. He’s one of my best friends and we’re such a strong, close team, we’ve all raced with each other before,” Beaumont said.
“It’s happened to a few guys and it’s never nice. I spoke to him yesterday and I didn’t really know what to say. Of course it’s everyone’s dream to be in the Olympics – and it was his dream. I’m gutted for him.”
The 22-year-old had previously deputised for other rowers last year at the European Championships, where the four came away with a bronze, and at the World Cup in Lucerne, where they earned a silver medal.
Townsend said that he was confident Beaumont would slip smoothly into the boat but that the onus was now on all of them to focus on the task in hand in the wake of a turbulent arrival in Rio.
“It’s really difficult. We want to be there for Graeme but we want to be professional and get our heads down. Graeme has said that to us in a message. He said: ‘Go ahead, crack on and get your heads down, I know you can,’” he said.
For Beaumont, whose father Peter competed at the 1988 Olympics in the men’s eight and is scrambling to reach Rio in time for his son’s race, there was a certain symbolism at work.
“Maybe it did put me at a disadvantage to start with in terms of selection. And I was gutted not to have made the team,” he said. “Yeah, I feel this is almost 12 months on to the day, and it does almost feel symbolic that I’m here. But there’s not really time to think about that. We’re here to do a job.”
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