Team SA suffer rowing blues on opening day of Tokyo Games

24 July 2021 - 09:47 By david isaacson
Lawrence Brittain, Kyle Schoonbee, John Smith and Sandro Paulo Torrente of South Africa react after the men's four final of the 2021 final Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland on May 16, 2021.
Lawrence Brittain, Kyle Schoonbee, John Smith and Sandro Paulo Torrente of South Africa react after the men's four final of the 2021 final Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland on May 16, 2021.
Image: Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images

Team SA suffered a big blow on Saturday’s opening session of the Tokyo Olympics when their fancied men’s four rowers sauntered into last place of their heat.

Lawrence Brittain, Kyle Schoonbee, John Smith and Sandro Torrente, among the country’s top medal hopes, will have to do a spectacular turnaround in the repechage on Sunday or else SA rowing, for the first time this millennium, will fail to reach an A-final at a Games.

Australia finished first in 5 min 54.27 sec, ahead of the US in 5:57.27. SA was fifth in 6:25.34.

“We’ve got to regroup tomorrow and try a few things, we’ve got to try execute a different race plan and see how we go,” said Smith, a member of the lightweight four that won gold at London 2012.

“We’re keen to try turn this thing around. It’s not done yet. We have one last chance to get it right tomorrow.”

On paper they should be able to finish in the top two of the repechage, having beaten four of their five rivals in Lucerne in May.

They beat Canada at the qualification regatta and then a week later at the World Cup at the same course they beat Romania, Poland and Switzerland.

Schoonbee said they had perhaps tried tinkering too much since then to improve their speed.

“We did refine our race plan quite a bit from the World Cup in Lucerne and the qualification regatta trying to take the next step, but trying to add another ball to what we were already juggling we just lost a little bit.

“We just need to go back to that base foundation that we had and see how that goes. We just didn’t row a long enough stroke.”

Being condemned to the repechage is not a problem in itself. At Rio five years ago a less experienced SA men’s four had to take that route, and ended up finishing fourth overall.

But the trouble was how impotent they looked on Saturday morning. Head coach Roger Barrow wasn’t overly confident that they could get it right in 24 hours.

“We’ve only got tonight to turn it around, so it’s a big ask. We’re going to have to really soul search tonight,” he said.

“It’s a tough one. We’ve definitely got it against us — I’m not that confident, we looked too flat.”

The pair of Jake Green and Luc Daffarn also ended last, and they too will race in a repechage on Sunday morning to win a spot in the semifinals.

SA rowing has won medals at three Olympics, Athens 2004, London and Rio 2016, and had at least one A-finalist at Beijing 2008 and Sydney 2000.

The last time they didn’t get to an A-final was Atlanta 1996.


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