Tamar rower Blair Tunevitsch back in training

Looking ahead: Blair Tunevitsch hard at work in the Tasmanian Institute of Sport gym. Picture: Rob Shaw
Looking ahead: Blair Tunevitsch hard at work in the Tasmanian Institute of Sport gym. Picture: Rob Shaw

In late July, 2012, Blair Tunevitsch believed he was about to became an Olympian.

Five years later he is still waiting, but hasn’t given up on the dream.

The Tamar rower was the bow side reserve for Australia’s lightweight four (and double) at the London Olympics. Ironically, his cousin Ali Foot was reserve for the opposite (stroke) side of the four.

The first-choice crew consisted of fellow Tasmanians Sam Beltz and Anthony Edwards plus Western Australians Todd Skipworth and Ben Cureton.

Cureton had been under an injury cloud leading into competition and Tunevitsch had been filling his seat.

However, Cureton's troublesome back was given the all-clear and he reclaimed his spot. He held it through the heat, semi-final and final where the Australians were in medal contention before being run down late on and finishing an agonising fourth by less than a second.

“Unfinished business,” Tunevitsch said as he reflected on the Eton Dorney regatta.

“I had a seat in the boat virtually right up until race day.

“It’s been a long time since 2012 but I still want to be an Olympian, that’s my goal, and also the possibility of a medal if all goes to plan.”

Aside from that one unticked box, Tunevitsch, who turns 32 next month, had a glittering international career.

Beginning rowing at Scotch Oakburn and Tamar, he was an under-23 world championship bronze medallist (missing silver by 0.03 of a second in a photo finish) in the lightweight quad in Belgium in 2006.

In the senior ranks he won world championship silver medals in the lightweight four and eight in New Zealand in 2010 (the only lightweight male ever to double up and medal) and returned a year later to Slovenia where he claimed gold in the eight alongside Foot while also finishing fifth with another Tasmanian, Tom Gibson, in the lightweight pair. 

Coming off injury in 2015, Tunevitsch teamed up with Beltz, Gibson and Queenslander Nick Silcox in Amsterdam to finish fifth in a world championship lightweight four race which saw a world fastest time set.

After a 16-month break from the sport, which coincided with the decision to axe the lightweight four from the Olympic program, Tunevitsch wanted to get back on the water.

Resuming a Tasmanian Institute of Sport scholarship, he trained with coach Brett Crow in Hobart and, after transferring to the Launceston branch of Contact Group, the refrigeration technician returned to the familiar surroundings of Tamar.

He began training with fellow national aspirants Henry Youl, Ciona Wilson and a North Esk contingent including Jack Barrett under the respected gaze of clubmate and two-time Olympian Brendan Long.

“Brendan has a bit of Sam le Compte’s coaching technique about him and is really good for the younger guys.

“He can be quite serious but has a great knowledge having been to the Olympics. He has everyone’s trust because he knows what hard work it takes.

“I used to have a lot of paddle battles with Brendan when he was training for the Athens Olympics so it brings back a lot of memories and plenty of good ones.”

Although the number of Olympic opportunities has halved for lightweight rowers, Tunevitsch has his heart set on the double in 2020.

“I won a pair with Ali at states but had a quiet winter and it’s only the last couple of weeks I’ve started working hard towards my goal.

“I’ve got the a few challenges ahead, one of which is to sort out my weight. I’m 81.5kg and need to lose 10kg, that’s my biggest challenge at this stage. I’m aiming for 74 by the end of year.

“But I’ve got the hunger back and I am enjoying the training environment at Tamar in the mornings.”