Cape Times

SA rowers on heavy Henley mission

- Ockert de Villiers

JOHANNESBU­RG: 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 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 will complete the quartet 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.

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, said the crew has shown some potential which they had to deliver on.

“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,” Brittain said.

Rio Olympian Kirsten McCann will be the only other South African racing at Henley, in the women’s single sculls boat.

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