Nathan Thomas was part of a golden era for water polo in Tamworth. Over a distinguished career, the Tamworth High protege represented Australia at two Olympics, played over 300 times in the green and gold and enjoyed the distinction of captaining his country. Since his retirement Thomas has been a regular visitor back to Tamworth to pass on his expertise to the next generation of local stars. In 2004 he visited his primary school – West Tamworth Public School to talk with the students about his experiences at the Athens Olympics.
WEST Tamworth students were paid a visit from a very friendly Shark yesterday, in the form of Australian water polo team captain Nathan Thomas.
A former West Tamworth student, Thomas returned to his old haunt to share stories of his Olympic experience with the youngsters, who had followed he and his Aussie Sharks team-mates' progress at Athens with interest.
"The ticker-tape parade and the thing today ... one of the rewards is to see the kids following our performances," Thomas said.
"Those events are really special and make you realise that other people, other than family and friends, follow your career."
After 12 years living and breathing water polo with the Australian team, Thomas may have played his last game in the green and gold and ironically it was in the same place that he made his international debut – Athens in 1993, where Australia won bronze at the World Cup.
"It was a great to start my career and to captain the side was a great way to finish," he said.
The former Tamworth High student said water polo had given him a wonderful life, but he was ready to concentrate on other aspects of his life, such as two-year old daughter Nioka, or almost.
"My gut feeling is I won't play for Australia again," he said.
"The Olympic Games is the culmination of our sport and for me to go another four years I'd be 36 and too old I feel to perform at my best."
The Aussie Sharks finished their Olympic campaign ninth overall with three wins, a draw and four losses, which Thomas said was disappointing from the perspective of their previous results.
"In the 18 months lead-up we'd proved to the international arena that we can compete and that we can beat any team on our day," he said.
"But at the Olympics we didn't quite put that together."
Despite finishing one place lower than in Sydney, Thomas feels the future for the Australian team is looking very good.
"What's really fantastic is that the average age of the team was 23," he said.
"The team's relatively young when you take out a couple of 30-year olds and we had three 20 year-olds that were the linchpins in Athens and in four, eight and probably even 12 years they're going to be in their prime."