SA men's rowing pair are in Olympic medal territory‚ says coach Barrow

Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling of South Africa compete during the Men's Pair Heat 1 on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Lagoa Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling of South Africa compete during the Men's Pair Heat 1 on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Lagoa Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Image: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

The men’s pair of Lawrence Brittain and John Smith may have finished ninth at the world championships at the weekend‚ but national coach Roger Barrow says they’re in the medal mix for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The pair was SA’s only boat to book qualification for the Games in Austria at the weekend‚ with two other crews missing out in what could be termed a disappointing campaign by SA.

The men’s four missed qualification by four spots and the lightweight women’s double sculls by five‚ meaning they will try again at a qualification regatta in Switzerland in May next year.

The women’s pair‚ a late inclusion after they had made the podium at the under-23 world championships‚ were also five spots off qualification.

Barrow has much thinking to do but he was happy with the performance of the men’s pair‚ especially after the injuries endured by both Brittain and Smith.

“If you look at their times‚ they were only a few seconds off the bronze medal. They are a medal contender‚ we’re still in that pot.”

It’s a statistical fact that crews qualifying in May have a good chance of winning medals at the Olympics.

SA’s fortunes could well improve between now and then.

Barrow believed his one failing was not giving the crews enough race time‚ having gone to only two regattas in Europe this season.

“We needed to race more than we did‚” Barrow said on his return on Monday morning.

Kirsty McCann and Ursula Grobler‚ who last raced together in the double scull at the 2016 Rio Olympics‚ had started the regatta in good form‚ but they deteriorated through the rounds because of a lack of race fitness.

Nicole van Wyk proved she is still in the running for the double sculls boat after finishing sixth in the lightweight women’s single sculls‚ SA’s best result of the regatta.

Barrow believed the inexperience of two rowers in the men’s four had counted against them‚ and once again he carried the can for not giving them enough race time in the build-up to the championships.

If the funding is available‚ he’d like to increase the number of races next year.

The coach is also toying with the idea of pushing the men’s double sculls boat instead of the four as the secondary heavyweight crew behind the pair.

“It’s just thoughts we’ve been throwing around. But you’ve got to be careful trying something new because you think it’ll be better than what you’ve got. It often isn’t better.”

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