Published in the Warrandyte Diary, October 2012 Issue
Canoeist Tom Ohman weathers the tide of life with a positive attitude, a sense of humor and some wonderful memories of the 1956 Olympics, discovers BRIANNA PIAZZA
BP: Tell us about your time at the Olympics.
TO: We were in Ballarat for about four weeks. It was the highlight of my whole career and I was thrilled to pieces! I loved meeting the different people and seeing the beautiful boats, as there weren’t many high quality boats in Australia at that stage. On our first day we paddled a 10,000m race and as we bounced around on the waves caused from the boats at the first corner we ended up at the back of the group and just couldn’t catch up. The next day in the 1000m race we came second in our heat and then we got fifth in our final.
How do you think the 1956 Olympics differ to now?
We were complete amateurs. Professionalism was just not on. If you had the slightest thought of professionalism you would be disbarred from the games. The coaching that we had wasn’t up to scratch, so we were more or less on our own.
Have you always lived in Warrandyte?
I was born at Queenscliff and my father was a First World War digger whose health crashed so he came to hospital in Melbourne and the family followed him. I finally settled in Rosanna where I spent about 30 years. Yet all my life as a canoeist I’ve always said I’d love to live in Warrandyte and I’ve now been here for 30 years. Who would want to live anywhere else?
When did you get involved in canoeing?
When we were at Queenscliff my brother had a friend who had a tin canoe on a salt lake, just a couple of miles from Queenscliff. We used to go out there and sail in this little tin canoe for about a year or so. Then we came to Melbourne and we ended up at Fairfield and I had friends who took me down to the rowing and canoe club there and I’ve been in that club ever since.
What is it about canoeing that you have always loved?
I guess it was just fooling around in boats. Also, I’ve been to some places in Victoria and NSW that you just could not get to unless you paddled. I’ve been to some wild areas on the Upper Murray and the Upper Goulburn. You’ve even got some gorgeous places on the Yarra that you can barely get to unless you paddle. Over time, I’ve paddled right from the Upper Yarra dam right to the sea.
Do you have any special memories of your time at the Olympics? Another thing that always makes me smile were the Canadians, they were very friendly and one day one of them said to me, ‘Tom, you must realise that you have never paddled internationally before, whereas we have paddled internationally for 50 years. We know what it’s like, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t do well’. In the races, the Canadians and the Americans were that far behind they were lonely – he didn’t speak to me again!
What did you do after the Games?
After the Games, a lot of the boats were sold in Australia and I bought a beautiful K2 which I still have now. I won Victorian championships in it, and my mate and I won seconds and thirds in the Australian championships. As I got older I had to slow down a bit, but normally every year for about three or four weeks I’d go skiing as I’m in a ski club at Hotham. I mainly did cross-country skiing and I downhill skied all over America. It was a good life.