Get married or row in world champs: which is more nerve-racking?

07 September 2018 - 13:11
By David Isaacson
The SA men's four in training (from left): Sandro Torrente, John Smith, David Hunt, Kyle Schoonbee.
Image: Simon Moor The SA men's four in training (from left): Sandro Torrente, John Smith, David Hunt, Kyle Schoonbee.

Veteran John Smith starts competing at the 2018 rowing world championships in Bulgaria on Sunday‚ just two weeks before he ties the knot.

And Smith‚ a 2012 Olympic champion and 2014 world champion‚ didn’t hesitate when asked which occasion he considered more nerve-racking.

“World champs‚” replied the 28-year-old‚ a member of the men’s four alongside David Hunt‚ 27‚ Kyle Schoonbee‚ 22‚ and Sandro Torrente‚ 20‚ one of five SA crews in action in Plovdiv until next weekend.

“I’ve got a financée who’s taking care of it [wedding arrangements]‚” Smith said‚ referring to his sweetheart‚ former national rower Nadine Smith (no relation‚ of course).

“Everything’s basically done. My job was suits‚ music and dancing. Sorted. Easy. Get groomsmen some suits‚ get music for the place and tell the DJ what he needs to play and‚ ja.”

But dancing lessons weren’t quite as simple‚ he admitted.

“I’ve got to do a sokkie thing so I don’t embarrass myself‚” said Smith‚ also known by his nickname‚ "Bean".

“It’s not easy. I think some Afrikaans people might think I’m really bad‚ but some English people might think‚ ‘ja‚ that’s not too bad’. That’s where I’m trying to pitch it‚ that I don’t look too bad.”

Hunt‚ nicknamed "Noddy"‚ said boogieing was a universal challenge for rowers. “We’re used to having rhythm with our feet glued to a plank so dancing does not come naturally.”

Smith‚ also the joker of the crew‚ referred to Hunt as The Gigawatt at one point in the interview. He explained that Hunt and Schoonbee‚ the strongmen of the boat‚ were always competing to see who produced the most power.

“Noddy managed to pip Kyle once and now we’ve dubbed Noddy the strongest. It upsets Kyle‚” added Smith‚ with a mischievous smile.

Smith‚ who moved up from lightweight two years ago‚ and Torrente focus on the stroke rhythm.

Hunt is a survivor of the heavyweight four crew that finished fourth at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

He and Smith were in the boat that ended 13th at last year’s world championship‚ along with Olympic pair silver medallist Lawrence Brittain and Jake Green‚ who will man the pair boat this week.

The current combination hooked up only this year. They ended ninth overall at the season’s first World Cup regatta in Serbia in June‚ but won the bronze medal at the third regatta in Switzerland in July.

“We’re buoyed by the performance in Lucerne‚ but there were a few big crews missing there so‚ I mean‚ there’s evidence to suggest that there’s five or six crews that are the same speed at the moment‚” said Hunt.

“I think Australia are a step ahead at the moment‚ having been established for a couple of years and they’re quite a dominant crew.

“But behind them there’s five or six‚ maybe even more crews that are fighting for the rest of the spots and we view ourselves as one of those contenders.”

Added Smith: “If we race the race we can it’ll put us on the podium.”

The target for this year’s championships is for the SA squad’s three premier crews — which also includes the lightweight women’s double sculls of Kirsty McCann and Nicole van Wyk — to finish high enough to know they are all set to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at next year’s world championships.

“It’s more gearing up for qualifying and then taking the step up for the Games‚” said Brittain.

Both he and Green‚ who had surgery on his right arm‚ took time off early this year‚ but they came back strongly to win their spot in the world championship team at the expense of Brittain’s brother Charles and James Mitchell‚ the under-23 pair world champions.

“Because we haven’t raced the whole season we don’t really know where we stand‚” added Brittain.

“We know we’re moving in the right direction‚ we’ve done good work‚ but we’ll have to see where we are.”

As the interview was winding up‚ Smith said with a poker face. “Sandro has something to tell you.”

Torrente laughed and shook his head in denial.

“He [Smith] loves doing that‚” a smiling Hunt quipped‚ “throwing people under the bus.”