Stroke of good fortune sets up top SA team for Henley
BOASTING two Olympic medallists in one boat, the South African rowing team will get down to business over the next two weeks starting with the Henley Royal Regatta this weekend.
The famous Henley Regatta on the River Thames will be London 2012 gold medallist John Smith’s first outing as a heavyweight as he shares the men’s four boat with Rio Olympics silver medallist Lawrence Brittain.
The TuksSport/HPC rowers will be joined by the two remaining members of the Rio Olympics men’s four crew, David Hunt and Jake Green at Henley and next week’s third leg of the World Cup in Lucerne.
Smith explains finding a place in the men’s four boat was the result of a stroke of “bad” luck which ultimately worked in their favour.
“It is really cool to be back in the boat, I was never going on the tour then one of the guys got injured and I was just taking his place for two days,” Smith said.
“Jake (Green) and I managed to beat Noddy (David Hunt) and Lawrence in some pieces, then the coach (Roger Barrow) realised we could make a four-man boat because we had two fast pairs.”
Demonstrating the incredible ability to adapt, Smith has been on a mission to transition from a lightweight to a heavyweight rower since the Rio Olympics.
The move has come with its fair share of complications as the change in diet and gym resulted in some health issues but the legendary rower has managed to bulk up.
Having won the 2012 Olympic gold medal with the lightweight coxless four and the 2014 world lightweight double sculls title with James Thompson, he is looking for success with a new crew in a new weight category.
“Initially Roger just wanted me to train and get ready for the world champs but I managed to prove myself in that pair to be really fast,” Smith said.
“This is my fourth Henley; we’ve never won, we’ve made it to finals day twice but we’ve never won it and we really want to win it.”
Brittain, who won the men’s pair silver medal with Shaun Keeling at last year’s Rio Olympics Games, said the crew has shown some potential.
“It is going to be quite exciting, it is going to be a bit of an interesting one because it will be our first race together at the Henley Regatta but we are looking forward to it,” Brittain said. “We have really exciting speed and training has been going really well, we don’t really know where we sit so this next week is going to be about finding out where we sit among the big dogs.
“It is going to be pretty intense but we are really looking forward to it.”
Rio Olympian Kirsten McCann will be the only other South African racing at Henley, in the women’s single sculls boat.
McCann raced to a world lightweight double sculls bronze medal with former crew member Ursula Grobler in 2015.