Motivation, Passion and Vision – The three cornerstones of Thomas Whalan
Newly elected Water Polo Australia (WPA) President Thomas Whalan, has so far made a substantial contribution to Water Polo throughout his playing and professional career. Thomas’ dedication to improve the sport has been paramount, through his time on the board of WPA since 2012 and his initiative of Water Polo by the Sea. The four-time Olympian’s impact has seen the sport grow both in Australia and internationally and will continue to do so in his new role as President of WPA.
“I have always been passionate about Water Polo in Australia and internationally, obviously throughout my playing career. I have always wanted to give back to the sport and I am just honoured to be a part of an exciting time in Water Polo Australia,” he said.
“It is certainly an exciting time to be bringing together all the great tools, resources and people that we have in the sport and continuing the good work that we have worked on in the past few years.”
Thomas grew up with a swimming and nippers background as well playing several other sports including cricket and rugby. But his first and fondest memory of Water polo was practicing with his brother in the ocean.
“I remember jumping in the water with my brother who had started Water Polo up at Scots College and Sydney University and we would go down to Parsley Bay in the ocean to throw a ball around. He would teach me how to pass and catch and that is probably the first memory I had of really falling in love with the whole concept of Water Polo,” he said.
Since then, Thomas developed into one of Australia’s best water polo players, competing in: 4 Olympic Games, the Champions League in Europe, the Spanish and Italian League as well as over 350 international games for Australia. Thomas was swept away by the cultural aspect of Water Polo in Europe from as early as 15, when touring with the U17s Youth Team.
“I was fortunate to travel overseas when I was 15 with the youth team (U17s) where we toured to Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia,” he said.
“I fell in love with the European aspect of the sport and then went many times with junior and senior teams touring to Europe and it kind of got me really excited with the prospect of playing overseas. It was a fantastic experience and I just had so much support from so many great people around the world.”
The Sydney 2000 Olympics was Thomas’ first Olympic experience. He was the youngest was the Australian player on the team, debuting at just 19 years of age.
“I was still quite young and naive when I walked into that opening ceremony in Sydney 2000, but it was just amazing to see all that support from the home crowd,” he said.
“I was really focused on the results being the best I could with the team that and having the opportunity to play in front of the home crowd.”
In his time overseas, Thomas won the Copa Del Rey in 2003 with Club Natacio Barcelona in the Spanish League where he was equal highest goal scorer. He won another Copa Del Rey a year later with Club Atletic Barceloneta. Thomas came back to Australia the following year before returning to Europe where he played in the Italian League for 4 years (SS Nervi 2005/06 & Rari Nantes Savona 2006/09) and returned to Atletic Barceloneta winning the league and Copa Dely Rey. Thomas also won three National League titles for Sydney University Lions but out of all his achievements, his highest honour was captaining the 2008 team for the Beijing Olympics.
“It was an absolute honour to captain and lead the side of a brilliant team in 2008 but every Olympic team I was fortunate to be involved with was so satisfying and London 2012 was a very proud moment with what we achieved notwithstanding coming home without the medal we planned for ” he said.
“Whether you’re a captain or not, I think we have so many great leaders in Australia and I was humbled to not only be a captain but to also be a part of a number of great teams in every other Olympics as well.”
Thomas is one of a few athletes to have featured in four Olympic Games in Water Polo; a ‘healthy addiction’ for Thomas which constantly drove him to represent his country for as long as possible. Thomas’ longevity in the sport proves his commitment and passion.
“The Olympics to me really was an addiction, it was a healthy addiction. Every Olympics was a different experience and by 2012 it was obviously very different in terms of the growth, the maturity and leadership and I enjoyed every single Olympics for various aspects,” he said.
“I was really happy that I risked going to too many Olympics so that I didn’t live with any regrets afterwards; I was so content finishing at the London 2012 Olympic Games.”
Post-retirement, Thomas has had a smooth transition from athlete to his involvement in Water Polo. A creative character, Thomas is passionate about expanding Water Polo to new global markets. The founder of Water Polo by the Sea started in January 2012 that is an annual event which showcases the best athletes playing Water polo in unique locations including pools, rivers and oceans.
“I always had this vision to play Water Polo in iconic locations. We have a brilliant sport and it’s more about bringing the sport to the people and creating a real event out of it,” he said.
Since the first event in 2012, Water Polo by the Sea has expanded overseas for the first time this year which took place in Portofino, Italy. The event saw a Men’s matchup between Italy v World All Stars as well as Italy v France in the Women’s. Water Polo by the Sea is an incredible initiative which continues to promote the sport globally.
“We put the first event together within a month. The event was sold out and we had all sorts of media coverage that we haven’t experienced in Australia before. It really proved that we were onto something and since then we have enjoyed amazing growth in exposure ,” he said.
“The response we received overseas was fantastic and I think we as sport can do a lot more of really promoting the beautiful game both in Australia and internationally.”
Water Polo is the sport that Thomas lives by, putting all his energy into producing the best results for the community. As for many athletes transitioning from the sport, Thomas’ advice is to plan for next stage of every athlete’s career.
“You learn so many skills from giving it your absolute best that I have carried through post-retirement and it’s really important for athletes not only to ensure they get the most out of their sport but they are planning for that moment so they have to transition into what their passionate about.”
Thomas’ ambition to improve the sport has been his motivation with continuing his involvement in Water Polo. He has been motivated in producing the best for the sport, starting from a grassroots level.
“I am so proud of my sport, but I also see that our sport could be reaching so much more in terms of the promotion of the sport and capturing so many more young children to play a brilliant sport,’ he said.
“I think culturally Australians are great swimmers. We’re on the coast, we love the water, we’ve got talented athletes everywhere and I think it’d be hard not to be addicted to that and wanting to see it go further. I think I saw it playing over in Europe the potential that this sport can do for people and I have just always been passionate about wanting more out of my sport. I think if we can work together we can achieve great goals.”
Thomas’ significant contribution to Water Polo has been paramount throughout his playing and professional career. Thomas’ positive influence on will continue in his new role as President of Water Polo Australia.
“I have been on the board for quite some time now and we have got a board now that is really keen to do the best for the sport. The biggest goal is to bring everyone together starting with Australia, to make sure that we are all on the same page and that we are all working together,” he said.
“That is really to make sure that we give every single player from a young kid that wants to jump in and have a go with providing them with the opportunity to have the best fun possible. Also, it is providing them with the tools all the way up and everything in between to an Olympic Gold Medallist so if we can do this, then we will achieve amazing results going forward.”
Written by Vangeli Kollias (WPNSW Communications Coordinator)