Alan Thompson Born 1959
In most countries, Alan Thompson’s two Olympic kayaking gold medals and three world championship medals would ensure him superstar status.
But Thompson could walk down the main street of any New Zealand town and be virtually unrecognised. He was a central figure in an exciting and pioneering era of New Zealand sport, but in the public mind is overshadowed by team-mates Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald.
They lived in media-aware Auckland, he based himself in Gisborne. They were heavily involved in public speaking and on television shows, he was not. Yet there can be no questioning Thompson’s right to be placed on their level.
Thompson was initially a successful swimmer and rugby player. He was the hooker in the Gisborne Boys High First XV and represented the North Island rugby team at under-18 level. He took up surf lifesaving to supplement his swimming and in 1977 graduated to kayaking.
In 1978 he and his coach John Grant decided to adopt the Arthur Lydiard training methods and were so successful other leading New Zealand kayakers soon followed suit.
By 1980, the leading New Zealanders were good enough to be making the finals of major events. The Moscow Olympic Games that year were decimated by the American-led boycott, but the kayakers did not follow the rest of the New Zealand team and provided three of the four athletes who competed at the Games.
At Moscow, Thompson and Geoff Walker made the K2 1000 final.
By 1984, the New Zealanders were a major force in world kayaking, and the Los Angeles Olympic Games that year were a gold medal feast for the New Zealanders, who won the K1 500 and 1000, the K2 500 and the K4 1000. Thompson won the K1 1000 convincingly, beating silver medallist Milan Janic of Yugoslavia by more than a second, and was part of a superb K4 combination.
“Our K4 team - Ferguson, MacDonald, Grant Bramwell and me - was a very special combination. Even though kayaking technology has moved on light years since 1984, the times we recorded back then would have got us into many major finals for years afterwards,” said Thompson.
Thompson was hopeful of grabbing another Olympic medal at Seoul in 1988, but raced conservatively and finished sixth in the K1 1000.
That was virtually the end of his career. He’d won a heap of national titles, including six successive K1 1000 crowns from 1981. But he did make an interesting return to racing in 1993.
“I didn’t feel the guys I was coaching were really putting in the effort in training, so I set myself a goal of winning the national K1 1000 title to make my point. I trained for 10 months and did win it.”
Thompson became involved in many aspects of kayaking after his days as an international competitor. He coached and managed New Zealand teams overseas and was a long-time national selector. In addition, he had several stints on the national association and played a pivotal role in the New Zealand Canoeing Association becoming a Federation.
In his early days as a paddler, Thompson earned a living making kayaks. Later he worked as the manager of Gisborne Surf Lifesaving, and owned two TAB outlets and a bar.
Thompson became president of the New Zealand Canoeing Federation.
He was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.