SA rowers make it to Olympic semis

07 August 2016 - 02:00 By David Isaacson

Less than 18 months after his last dose of chemotherapy, cancer survivor Lawrence Brittain and rowing partner Shaun Keeling yesterday battled wild conditions to advance into the semifinals at the Rio Olympics. The duo, who failed to qualify for the London Games in 2012, were second in their heavyweight men's coxless pairs heat behind Australia.Their 6min 41.42 over the exposed Lagoa Stadium 2km course, choppy in parts because of a "pumping" cross wind, was the second-fastest overall.Their time was fractionally quicker than New Zealand's defending champions Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, who won their heat in 6:41.75 to maintain their remarkable run of having not lost a race since 2009.story_article_left1The Serbians, bronze medallists at last year's world championships, failed to finish."It's wild, it's wild," said Brittain. "We knew the wind was going to be big in Rio and we practised a bit, but . we don't usually race in conditions like that."We could see in the warm-up that it was rough so we knew we had to execute it well out the beginning."The South Africans shot into an early lead, clocking the fastest opening 500m of the morning, but the Aussies overhauled them over the second quarter.Keeling and Brittain fought hard over the final 500m, posting the second-fastest fourth leg of all three heats."We had a really good start but the conditions got on top of us in the middle and we lost it a bit," admitted Keeling. We've got to win in any conditions on any day."Brittain said they had homework to do before the semifinals on Tuesday."We've got some work to do in the middle of the race there through the rough, but otherwise not too bad a start for us."The final is on Thursday.Brittain was diagnosed with lymph-node cancer known as Hodgkin's Disease late in 2014 after his form kept on sliding.When Brittain returned to training in late February last year, he was bald, chubby and under strict instructions not to push his heart rate above 120 beats per minute.story_article_right2But earlier this year he forced his way back into the boat, rejoining Keeling, a veteran of Beijing 2008.Keeling, 29, said his experience yesterday was different to eight years ago. "I was in a daze then, today I was a bit more in control."Brittain, 25, couldn't help but think a little of the effort and emotion it took to get to the start of this race.He said: "As the days grew closer it was getting more and more exciting and fantastic to be sitting on the start line there thinking where we've come from, where we were a year-and-a-half ago."Brittain and Keeling are looking to bag South Africa's second Olympic medal in this class, adding to the bronze Don Cech and Ramon di Clemente won at Athens 2004.In the men's road race, Louis Meintjies ended seventh, unable to keep up when eventual winner Greg van Avermaet of Belgium and Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang broke away.

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