Tom Sullivan

Tom Sullivan

Tom Sullivan, early 20th century.

A rowing life

Tom Sullivan (1868–1949) became New Zealand’s first great rowing coach after a fine career as a sculler. He won the New Zealand amateur single sculls title in 1890, aged 21. He moved to Sydney and turned professional, winning the New Zealand title and then becoming the first New Zealander to challenge for the world title. In 1893 he won the English title, but lost two races for this against his former coach in 1895. Now married with a family, Sullivan continued to row at the top level while running hotels near the Thames that were popular haunts of rowers. He soon became a shrewd coach himself.

In 1911 Sullivan was appointed as a coach at the elite Berliner Rowing Club, based on the Wannsee just outside the German capital. He expected to coach the German team at the 1916 Olympics, but instead found himself interned in Ruhleben detention camp from 1915 to 1918. After the war he coached the De Amstel club in the Netherlands before going back to Berliner. During his second stint (1925–36), he coached German and Olympic champions with ‘strict discipline and [an] exact method of rowing’. From Berlin, Sullivan moved to a club in Vienna, where – now in his 70s – he was interned again during the Second World War. Rising 80, Tom Sullivan returned to Vienna in 1947 and was still coaching there when he died two years later.


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