James Thompson with John Smith © Action Images

SA rowers miss out on more medals

All week, the SA rowers have been battling the crazy crosswinds and thriving. And when it was pouring with rain when they woke up on Friday, it looked like it would be more of the same.

But the rain stopped. There wasn’t a breath of wind when the four SA crews took to the water for their finals at the Lagoa stadium in Rio, and it proved to be part of their downfall. Two of the crews finished fourth (the men’s lightweight double sculls and the four) and two were fifth (the women’s lightweight double sculls and the heavyweight pair).

It’s an agonising end to a gruelling journey for the rowers, who were aiming for three medals from these Games. They at least have Thursday’s men’s pair silver from Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling to celebrate however, so they won’t leave Rio empty-handed.

“This was probably my worst dream come true. We’re all pretty devastated. Mainly I feel for the athletes. I think (lightweight double sculls crews) John (Smith) and James (Thompson), Kirsten (McCann) and Ursula (Grobler) – they were probably our two favourite boats and then to get fourth and fifth is gut-wrenching,” said SA coach Roger Barrow.

“I think they really put themselves out there. They really were aiming for gold in the middle. You saw their determination and commitment but it’s so close on the line and sh**t happens.

“You train this hard to make sure it doesn’t happen. They were in the mix but that’s how it goes,” he said, adding that Smith and Thompson could perhaps have pushed it too hard in the middle of the race to be able to execute their customary kick at the end.

“All credit to them though. We had a saying – we wanted to win this thing. They wanted to get a double Olympic gold but they didn’t have enough at the end,” he explained of the duo who were part of the lightweight four that won gold in London four years ago.

As for the calm conditions, Barrow added: “We wanted probably a bit more wind. We back ourselves in rough conditions, when it’s tough. Today it was good for the power crews. All the power crews like the French and the Norwegians and the Irish especially – they’re massively strong. Technically they struggle a bit more in the rough. But we’ve got to prepare for every given day. We prepared a bit more for the rough – it’s just one of those things.”

While desperately disappointed to miss out on a medal, the crew that actually performed well above expectation was the men’s four of David Hunt, Jonty Smith, Vincent Breet and Jake Green – a boat that was only put together this year. They were lying in third place for much of the race before Italy overtook them to steal the bronze.

“Fourth place – there’s no worse position that you can get,” said Hunt afterwards. “We said before the race that we’d exceeded expectations already to make the final. We knew we had the speed to really box for this medal. We said if someone was going to take it from us, they’d have to wrestle it from our dead hands.

“But Italy showed their class and why they were world champions last year. They were patient and they went and they went hard and we just didn’t have it to hold them off unfortunately.

“In a couple of days we’ll probably look back and be proud of ourselves for that but right now, being in a bronze medal position for 1 900m of a 2 000m race, you can’t feel anything but disappointment unfortunately. We just have to take a little bit of time and console ourselves and then look at it and see it for the achievement it really is,” said Hunt.

Barrow added: “The high yesterday – that was probably our best day in SA rowing. Today is probably our worst day ever.

“Yesterday to win all those semis and get good placings and then the silver for Lawrence and Shaun. I’ve got to make sure this negativity doesn’t overshadow that because I’m so thrilled with that. It’s massive mixed emotions. You go up from last night and believe we can do this and the team is full of confidence and then to come down on this low, it’s heavy.”


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