Good performance at late qualifying bodes well for SA rowers in Rio

25 May 2016 - 14:16 By David Isaacson

David Hunt‚ Jonty Smith (both mechanical engineering)‚ Vincent Breet (biomedical engineering) and BA scholar Jake Green won the qualifying regatta in Lucerne‚ Switzerland‚ stunning favourites France — bronze medallists at the recent European championships — into second place.The top two finishers booked their tickets to Brazil. The fours‚ made up of discards who failed to make the pairs‚ led from the start and crossed the line in 5min 55.22sec‚ nearly two seconds ahead of the French (5:57.10).SA will have five boats at the Games from August 6-21 — the previous best was three at Atlanta 1996‚ Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008.The other four boats qualified at the 2015 world championships‚ where they needed to place in the top 11 to get to Rio.The heavyweight fours missed out by two spots last year‚ but on Tuesday’s powerful performance they cannot be ruled out of medal contention at the Games.“The guys who do well at late qualifying normally do well at the Games‚” said veteran Shaun Keeling‚ a member of the SA pairs crew.“It’s a funny thing — because they are really fast.” He and partner Lawrence Brittain should know: four years ago they missed out on making the London 2012 team in the qualifying regatta.The French duo that won that day went on to take silver at the Olympics.Head coach Roger Barrow‚ a tough task master‚ was impressed. “That was the best race I’ve seen them do.”But he isn’t predicting medals just yet: “They’re a long shot. I don’t think we’re there yet‚ but they’re an exciting young crew on the way up.”Making the fours boat wasn’t an easy feat‚ even if they were leftovers.The big casualty along the way was Sizwe Ndlovu‚ a member of the golden lightweight fours from 2012‚ who lost his spot to Green.Breet and Hunt are the most experienced of the four‚ having won two world under-23 championship medals together‚ a gold in 2013 and a silver in 2012.Hunt also won an U23 silver with Brittain in 2011 while Breet won a world championship bronze with Keeling in 2014.Green and Hunt won a World University Championship silver in 2014.Smith is awaiting his first international podium position‚ having started the sport only in 2013. What he lacks in technique he makes up for with his raw power‚ say his crew mates.Hunt and Green are still studying‚ while Harvard student Breet and Smith have put their books on ice for the Olympics.SA rowing has produced two Olympic medals to date — a men’s pairs bronze at Athens 2004 and the lightweight fours gold at London 2012.In Rio‚ the SA oar stars have the potential to win multiple medals‚ considering three different crews have made the podium at the last two world championships.The rowers are:- James Thompson and John Smith (no relation to Jonty) were also members of the golden lightweight fours‚ but they teamed up in the lightweight double sculls to win the 2014 world championships in a world record time;- Their female counterparts‚ Ursula Grobler and Kirsty McCann‚ took bronze in the women’s lightweight double sculls at the world championships last year;- Keeling and Brittain are strong contenders; and‚- Lee-Ann Persse and Kate Christowitz are a good bet to make at least the final in Rio.These four crews‚ who all reached the podium at the first World Cup regatta in Italy last month‚ will be in action in the second leg starting in Lucerne on Friday. – TMG Digital

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