Bronze in your international sculling debut isn’t a bad result at all – and bronze at the World Rowing Championships isn’t bad either. But that’s been the journey for New Zealander Thomas Mackintosh this year.
After winning gold in the men’s eight at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021, Mackintosh took some time out, but broke back into the squad in time for the 2023 World Rowing Championships and a chance to qualify his boat for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. He had a superb regatta in Belgrade, making the A-final and rowing a strong race to secure bronze, just ahead of Olympic champion Stefanos Ntouskos of Greece. He is our September 2023 Rower of the Month.
We caught up with Mackintosh in Belgrade.
What has the 2023 season been like for you?
This has probably been one of the more unique seasons for me in that I took four to five months off when you would traditionally start. This was just to get some experience in the corporate world and see what that life was like. I quickly realised that my body wasn’t built for a desk and I’d invested a lot of time into the sport of rowing, so with the Paris Olympics actually not that far away, I had this opportunity to give it one last crack and come back to the sport.
While this was forming there was an opportunity to row in Japan for a company team, Toyota-Boshoku. That to me seemed like a good way to transition back into the high-performance environment, because I did spend about five months at a desk, so I wasn’t in fighting condition to come right back into the Rowing New Zealand high-performance programme in March.
What was it like rowing in Japan?
It was incredible, I really enjoyed it. They’re very hospitable people, they have this incredible work ethic, it’s a nice, neat, organised, clean country, they’re very, very polite and very accommodating.
How did you win the seat in the single scull?
I’d always been reasonably competitive domestically in the single scull. While I hadn’t raced it a lot, I was competitive in training against the other sweep guys and the scullers as well in the 2020 season. I spoke to the high performance manager and said ‘will you give me a trial?’ The deal was it was going to be a three-boat series in mid-June, best of three races against all other contenders.
It was myself, Tom Murray, Jordan Parry and Robbie Manson, we all threw the hat in the ring. Then Robbie set his sights on the double scull and Jordan was recovering from a motorbike accident, so he probably wasn’t in fighting condition at the time. So it ended up just being a head race between myself and Tom Murray, and I was fortunate enough to take out the first two races so that was the trial wrapped up.
Did you expect to win a medal at World Rowing Cup III?
It was a little bit of a surprise in the sense that I hadn’t raced the boat class internationally before, so making the A-final was box ticked for me. I’d class that as a success. But looking at the times of what people had been doing at regattas and how everyone was shaping up, I thought I might be in the mix based on what times I’d been doing back at home. I was just happy to be on the right side of the finish for the podium.
Would you like to stay in the boat for the Olympic Games?
That’s the plan that I set in motion when I decided to come back to the sport, but if things don’t shape up too well next season and someone usurps the single scull seat then luckily I can still sweep. There’s a contingency plan in the back of my mind, but first and foremost I’d like to be in the single scull for Paris.
How did you get into rowing?
Dad (Jock Mackintosh) was a big influence in me getting into rowing. He was a successful high school rower, and an Olympic triallist at age 19 for the Moscow Olympics, but New Zealand never went because they boycotted them. I really enjoyed hearing his stories of the camaraderie of rowing and the values it teaches you. I really liked the idea of putting hard work into a sport and loosely it’s one to one, you get out what you put in, give or take. He coached me in my early days and that was a nice way for us to bond – sometimes we’d have some arguments along the way, but I look at it now as such an awesome time in my rowing career.
Who do you look up to in the sport?
Bondy (Hamish Bond), I’d say. I was in a very fortunate position that I looked up to him a lot when I was rowing at school, but then I was also lucky enough to row a pair with him, and in the Tokyo eight. I feel like he was at a stage in his career where he just had a wealth of IP that he’d built up over however long he was in the sport, and I was just privileged enough to be there when he was handing out the golden nuggets of information.
It’s not as hard as you think, would be my takeaway from him. Him and Eric Murray were both very aerobically strong, but technically they were incredible.
The first time I got in a pair with Hamish I remember thinking ‘shit, I’m in a pair with Hamish Bond, I’m going to need to pull as hard as I possibly can’. So I did, and he turns around and says ‘what are you doing? Just relax and take it easy’. So we did a race rate piece and again I started pulling on it way too hard and he turns around and says ‘Tom, you just need to chill out a bit’. So we took the pressure down, just move fast and move well, and he goes ‘how did that feel?’ And I said that felt pretty easy. And he said we were on world record split at 34 rate, and I was like ah, that’s how you row a boat.
What’s the secret to Kiwi rowing success?
The ‘72 eight, which won the Olympic Games, the Evers-Swindell twins, your Mahé Drysdales, your Hamish Bonds and Eric Murrays, Kerri Williams and Grace Prendergast, even our women’s eight, they’ve done a lot of hard yards figuring out how to make these boats go fast. It shows that if you’re part of the system and you apply yourself in a similar way to they did then the results are possible. Also they passed down a lot of knowledge as well, which is why I think ultimately we do have a good programme.
We’ve also got an incredible administration behind us. Life’s pretty easy when we’re over here, I don’t really need for much in terms of my go-tos when I’m getting ready on the water. We’ve got a good team around us and I think that’s part of the reason for our success.
What would be your advice to a younger rower?
My advice would be there’s a lot more time in the day than you think there is. If you find something that piques your interest, apply yourself and enjoy it along the way, because you never know where it might take you. I picked up an oar in year 11 and it’s taken me all across the world to Olympic Games, multiple World Championships, and I wouldn’t be sitting here today without the sport.
What’s your favourite rowing location?
Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo – we won the eight there, so it’s hard to top that. We also raced at the all-Japan rowing championships there with the Toyota-Boshoku company team, and that was an amazing experience rowing with those guys. Shaun Kirkham went over with me, he was also part of the Tokyo eight, we channelled our energy from the Tokyo Olympics into that Japanese national championship. I’ll always have fond memories there.
What music is on your erg playlist?
Probably just lots of Eminem and general hype-up music.
What’s your favourite erg session?
In terms of an erg test, maybe a 5k just because I’m a bit more competitive relative to the bigger guys. I’m tall, but there’s not much to me round the sides, so I can be more competitive in the longer aerobic ergs, so I guess I enjoy those more.