Johannesburg – South African rowing’s quest to qualify five boats for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games have started in earnest with national coach Roger Barrow settling on the combinations for two upcoming regattas.
While it was the lightweight fours grabbed headlines with their gold-winning effort at the London Games, a new men's heavyweight fours crew will be taking to the water at Henley Royal Regatta and at the Lucerne World Cup in July.
In remarkable return to rowing after recovering from lymph node cancer, Lawrence Brittain earned a seat in the boat that includes Olympic gold medallist Lawrence Ndlovu.
Although the crew boasted some serious rowing pedigree Barrow was cautious to make predictions about the boat's prospects.
“They have a long way to go and the Cinderella ending might not happen because it is tough and with the injuries we’ve had in the top boat it affected the fours’ progress,” said Barrow, who is based at the Tuks HPC in Pretoria.
“When somebody is injured in the pair we take from the fours, so it is limping a bit and we’ve settled with a combination and we have about a month.
“I think they will have a hard time in Henley and in Lucerne, things won’t all go their way but hopefully they will learn a lot there.”
Barrow said while it was still a new crew they had the potential to do well considering it consisted of athletes that have performed on the international stage.
“If you look at the makeup you have an Olympic champion in Lawrence Ndlovu, Lawrence Brittain who has won a World Championship medal and obviously he doesn’t have cancer anymore so he is a lot stronger ,” he said.
“Then we have Vincent Breet who is a bronze medallist from last year in the pair and Jonty Smith, the SA record holder on the ergo.”
The men’s lightweight doubles boat of Olympic champions James Thompson and John Smith remained the A-team with the duo setting the bar for the rest of the squad.
The defending champions should now have come to grips with sculling after they made the transition ahead of last year’s world championships.
Thompson and Smith adapted well from sweep-oar rowing to sculling when they surprised the world rowing fraternity by claiming the lightweight title in a world best time of 6:05.36.
Barrow said the two rowers may have spent more time in the doubles boat but it would not guarantee success at this year’s world championships in France.
“It is nice having them another year in the double, they are learning all the time but I don’t think we’ve mastered that skill yet,” Barrow said.
“They were world champions last year but to do it again will be difficult but we can only control what can control and work hard at it every day.”
He said the duo continue to set the pace in training and have set a high standard for themselves.
“They are as hard as nails and if you think I am tough these guys are tougher, they really are ruthless racers and they are the hardest trainers of the group,” he said.
“They are ruthless in the way they train but racing them they never give up and they almost bring something different to the party every time.”
Shaun Keeling, who won the bronze medal in the men’s pair at last year’s world championships with Breet will form a new combination with David Hunt.
The women's lightweight doubles sculls crew of Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler that finished fourth there would once again form a partnership while Lee-Ann Persse and Naydene Smith will be the women's pair.