Johannesburg - South Africa’s lightweight men’s fours finished first in their repechage on Wednesday to earn a place in the semi-finals at the World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea.
“This is great news for the whole team, as all our rowers have now qualified for their respective semi-finals,” said team coach, Roger Barrow on Wednesday.
“They are all doing South Africa proud.”
There was more good news for Team SA when the LTAMix4+ crew won a bronze medal in their final, clocking 3:22.90. They were beaten by Britain who took the gold in 3:16.12 and Italy, who were second in 3:21.70.
Their third place gave South Africa its first ever medal in a para rowing world championship.
The lightweight men's fours, gold medallists at the 2012 London Olympic Games, were competing without Matthew Brittain, who had suffered a back injury and was taking a year out of rowing.
His replacement, Michael Voerman, combined with Olympic winners James Thompson, John Smith and Sizwe Lawrence Ndlovu, to qualify for Friday’s semi-final after leading the repechage throughout and finishing in 5:58.43.
The foursome were part of a 17-man team, including a paralympic crew, accompanied by four coaches and three support staff at the championships in South Korea.
“Reaching the semi-finals means our teams have already proved themselves to be one of the top twelve crews in the world -- and that’s worth celebrating,” said Barrow.
“By Friday, we aim to have all crews in the finals which will make them one of the best six in the world.”
The gold medallists at last year’s Olympics, and the bronze won by sprint canoer Bridgette Hartley in the K-1 500m, were game changers for rowing in South Africa.
Like many other sporting codes, rowing had struggled to find sponsorship and most of the oarsmen had been self-funding.
“South African rowing has taken a huge leap forward with the record size of our team at this championship and this tour has only been made possible with the support of Standard Bank and Coca Cola,” Barrow said.
“The results are extremely encouraging and are in line with RowSA’s plans to produce two Olympic medals in Rio in 2016.”
Paralympic rower Sandra Khumalo finished sixth overall in her ASW1x final, clocking 6:06.25.
Despite not medalling, it was another first for the team as Khumalo was the only disabled South African ever to qualify for an A Final in the “adaptive” rowing category.