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Ramon up for challenge

At the age of 34, when most athletes are looking to wind down their careers, Ramon Di Clemente is focusing on another four years of hard work in the coxless pairs ÔÇô focusing on London 2012.

‘I’m feeling really strong, have a good partner in Shaun Keeling, so why not,’ a tanned, lean-looking Di Clemente told Manfred Seidler over a wolfed-down toasted sandwich after a hard training session at Roodeplaat Dam

Di Clemente and partner Shaun Keeling are part of the group of 20 athletes sponsored by the SSMU at the High Performance Centre on the grounds of the University of Pretoria and the benefits of having sports scientific support at your fingertips certainly is paying dividends.

Ramon and Shaun, after only five months of training together, were squeezed out of the medals in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. ‘It was close, but that’s how rowing is, one second you in the lead, the next you in fifth. The lead chops and changes repeatedly.’

After winning his 11th consecutive pairs SA title in March ÔÇô Ramon has won a total of 12 SA titles ÔÇô the focus now shifts onto the European circuit and with that in mind, Di Clemente, Shaun Keeling, Physio Derek Du Plessis and High Performance Manager Roger Barrow, departed for Spain on Sunday 24 May.

‘We’ll be competing on Friday in the Banyoles World Cup just outside of Barcelona. The finals are on Sunday.’ It’s a whirlwind visit for the group as they return to South Africa on Monday, before departing for Henley in the UK three weeks later. ‘Henley is a happy hunting ground for South Africa, as we have won four of the five times we have raced there. The last victory being last year with Shaun.’

‘From England its off to Lucerne in Switzerland before we come home for our final six-week preparation for the World Championships in Poznan Poland in August.’ The pairing know the course in Poland pretty well, as they bagged a Bronze Medal in the 2008 World Cup.

After being together now for a year, the pairing of Di Clemente and Keeling are beginning to gel very well. ÔÇ£There is a lot of technical work still to be done, but we’re both in better physical shape than we were for the Olympics last year. Technically Shaun has come along in leaps and bounds. So we are certainly aiming to be amongst the medals come August.’

Di Clemente has two silver and three bronze World Championship medals with former partner Donovan Cech and is hoping for top of the podium with new partner Keeling.

‘Look we don’t expect a smooth ride, but Shaun and I certainly are capable of winning the gold medal. The competition in rowing is strong and we will have a good indication of where we are come Sunday.’

Asked whether his age is a factor, Ramon merely shrugs his shoulders. ‘Look at Steve Redgrave. He competed in five Olympics and won five gold medals. He won his last at age 38 in Sydney. So no, age is not an issue. Come 2012 I will be 38. Shaun will be 25 years old in London and we will make a very good combination. Yes of course we still need to qualify but that is what the next 3 years are all about. ‘

In the coxless pairs one rower sets the speed, the other needs to maintain it. What is important to note is that each rower only has one oar, so it is not like cycling on a tandem where there is a ÔÇ£stokerÔÇØ and a ÔÇ£steererÔÇØ who are both on the same chain. Ramon’s role is to set the pace and Shaun has to maintain it. Naturally they need to be totally in sync.


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