Will we see another ‘oarsome foursome’?
Barrow’s dedicated team is full of confidence ahead of Rio
QUALIFYING five boats for the Olympic Games could already be considered a major feat but Roger Barrow and his dedicated group of rowers will not be satisfied if they do not return from Rio without silverware.
The lightweight coxless fours crew of Matt Brittain, James Thompson, John Smith, and Sizwe Ndlovu’s victory in London was the shot in the arm Barrow and his management team needed to show they were on the right track.
Ramon di Clemente and Donovan Cech’s men’s pair bronze medal in Athens 2004 provided the inspiration and belief that South Africa had the potential to compete against the powerhouses in the sport.
South Africa’s depth and resources pale in comparison to the big rowing nations like New Zealand and Great Britain.
Instead using this as an excuse, Barrow and his management team have used this as motivation, finding ways to get their rowers on par with the rest of the world.
While the “oarsome foursome” have been disbanded, their legacy remains as years of hard work and planning culminated in the largest rowing contingent yet going to the Games.
Rowing’s representation has doubled since London 2012, and with that also the team’s medal prospects backed by success at major regattas over the last four years.
Three different boats won medals at world championships since 2012 with the two remaining members of the “oarsome foursome”, Thompson and Smith, winning gold in France in 2014 in the lightweight double sculls.
What made the duo’s world title victory more impressive was the fact that they had only months earlier made the transition from sweepoar rowing to sculling and in a world best time to boot.
At the same regatta, seasoned veteran Shaun Keeling and Vincent Breet claimed the bronze in the men’s pair boat.
Smith and Thompson have established themselves as one of the leading lightweight double crews in the world, finishing fourth place in France last year.
They will be going into the Games with a confidence- boosting victory at the first leg of the World Rowing Cup in Varese, Italy and their bronze from the second regatta in Lucerne this year.
The following year, the women’s doubles sculls crew of Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler were rewarded for their hard work, winning the bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships in the Netherlands.
Like the men’s lightweight double sculls, McCann and Grobler count among the top crews in their class finishing third at Varese before placing second in Lucerne.
Keeling was the one constant in the men’s pair while the rest of the heavyweights played musical chairs for the remaining seat with Lawrence Brittain eventually securing his berth for the Games.
In the women’s pair boat, LeeAnn Persse formed a new combination with Kate Christowitz with tasting success soon after they secured their seats.
They rowed to victory in Varese, before finishing fourth in Lucerne emerging as the dark- horses of the squad.
The men’s heavyweight four provided the cherry on top as the quartet of David Hunt, Jonty Smith, Vince Breet and Jake Green won the Olympic qualifying regatta in Lucerne.
The young group of rowers’ feat epitomised the squad’s ability to conjure something from nothing as the boat- class was a mere pipe dream three years ago.
All five boats will be aiming for a spot in the finals of their respective classes, and as the “oarsome foursome” have shown four years ago anything can happen from there.
MEDAL DASH: Ursula Grobler and Kirsten McCann during the lightweight women’s Double Sculls Final race at the Rowing World Cup on Lake Rotsee in Lucerne earlier this year.