The Power of 'What If'?

Synchronised Swimming | Published: Thu 14 February 2019

Some of life’s great triumphs and innovations have emanated from the simple question – what if? It’s that same question that brought an all but retired Amie Thompson back to the pool as she now prepares to go bigger, better and bolder than ever before.


In 2017 Thompson had left behind the swimming pool, she had left behind the early mornings and she had let go of the aches and pains that accompany the 30 plus hours of high performance training required each week to make the grade.


She’d figured it was time to put in place the building blocks of an Engineering degree, safe in the knowledge that she had already achieved a host of significant goals in the sport of synchronised swimming that had included competing at the Rio Olympic Games and at multiple World Championships.


But there was that one nagging question… What if? What if the team is capable of more than was delivered in Rio? What if they can build on that experience gained and apply it in Tokyo? What if the team can prove to the world that they’re not just making up the numbers?


As Thompson reflects, the potential answers became irresistible and increasingly difficult to ignore.


"I tried to retire after 2017 but it didn’t last very long because I had this question of what if? What if I could be better? So that’s where my passion is, and that’s where my fire is.


"There were a lot of questions in my mind. I could feel that I wasn’t quite done, even though a big part of me wanted to be.


"I have that what if and I’m ready to explore that,” she said.


And that exploration has seen Thompson return to the sport and officially selected for the Australian squad set to compete at the FINA World Championships in July.


The team has undergone some transition, but still includes a nucleus of athletes that swam for Australia in 2016 in Brazil.


Thompson reflects on Rio as an amazing experience, but one that was tempered by disappointment that the team ultimately, didn’t achieve what it had set out to do.


Eight nations qualify for the team events at Olympic level, and Australia had set its sights on finishing ahead of Egypt, who had beaten them before at the World Championships leading in.


"Our goal was always to beat Egypt and we didn’t. And I know we did everything we could to get there, and I know I should be thinking that’s ok, we did everything you can ask for but I’m naturally very hard on myself. And I want to do better than that, and I want to achieve my goals," she said.


"We didn’t beat Egypt and I let that taint my memories of it (Rio), but it’s also given me a fire to keep going.


"I want to prove to everyone that we do belong there. I think we did that last time, but I want to go one step further.”

 Amie Thompson at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Hungary. A tournament she had thought would be her last for Australia.


The 23 year-old is wise beyond her years. Born in England, she spent time in Sydney growing up before eventually settling in Perth. Her ancestral undertones make themselves apparent as an occasional English accent permeates her responses.


She offers a maxim as means of metaphor in contextualising why she drawn back to the pool.


"Motivated by the fear of being mediocre,” she smiles.


The fear is symbolic however and the mediocrity is relative to personal ambition. She concedes that Australia doesn’t have the clout to challenge for medals, but is determined to build on new challenges that perhaps speak to her engineering acumen.


She is already secured of her position on the team at this year’s World Titles in Korea and will partner fellow West Aussie Rose Stackpole in the free duet, with the pair hoping to also gain the second duet selection in the technical routine, when selections are finalised at the up-coming Japan Open in April.


Thompson is not getting ahead of herself at this point in time, but remains open to the thought of pushing on for Tokyo after Worlds.


"If I decide to go to Tokyo, I know what I have to do to make the team. I know how hard I have to work and I’m not afraid to do that work. I would be nervous about going back and not doing better than last time. That’s something that I would not settle for.


She credits her duet partnership with Stackpole as being pivotal to her reinvigoration, with the girls currently working on a free routine choreographed by a legendary synchronised swim star who has won multiple Olympic and World Championship medals for Spain.


"We decided to start up our duet again and things were really just falling into place. We got our free routine choreographed by Andrea Fuentes who was an Olympic silver medallist, and it’s an amazing routine, because she’s this choreography, creative guru. Doing better than I did in Rio, would also include being in the duet for me. If I could do that as well and add on to it, it would mean the world to me.”


The synchronised swimming squad were early adopters of the benefits of the WAIS High Performance Service Centre when it opened in 2015. Four members – Thompson and Stackpole included – made the Rio team based from Perth.


That squad has now swelled to eight athletes, with two more Olympians (Emily Rogers and Hannah Cross) having relocated West from Melbourne post Games to maximise their training, which in Perth offers a full-time coach, pool facilities that are directly adjacent to WAIS and a world class support hub that features gym, recovery, dry-land areas and a broad range of athlete amenities all under one roof.


Thompson believes it has helped to hard-wire a deep connection throughout a young squad.


"We have good training facilities, both in the pool and out the pool. Everything just ties together here,” she said.


"On an individual basis, it was good to have two Olympians here as well, as it brought up the expectation, the standard in how we have to train as real athletes and it’s good for the young ones as they have more girls to look up to.”


Away from the pool, Thompson has prioritised synchro, dropping down to one unit per semester at Uni for now, whilst she and other members of the squad have picked up coaching jobs in the evenings with the SupaNova club in Booragoon which she says has been an incredible support and experience.


With the Japan Open fast approaching, followed by the Canadian Open in late May. Thompson’s what ifs are now giving way to what’s next. If there is to be a second coming in Tokyo next year, you can bet that Thompson’s preparations will be engineered to the point that you could synchronise your watch to it.