Rowers power to South Africa's third gold medal | SASCOC - SASCOC

Rowers power to South Africa’s third gold medal

By Gary Lemke in London

Producing an incredible finish, the South African rowing lightweight rowing fours of James Thompson, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and Lawrence Ndlovu┬áwon the gold medal in Thursday’s final. It was the country’s third gold at these Olympics, following the heroics of Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos in the pool.

The South Africans, in lane five, came from fourth place with 500m to go and in a race that was immediately described as “brutal, really really brutal”, powered past Great Britain, Australia and Denmark to hit the line first in a photo finish.

Only 1.21 seconds separated first from fourth (Australia) after 2,000 metres of punishing rowing, with Olympic champions Denmark having set the pace from the start. They were followed by world champions Australia, and sandwiched between them was South Africa.

Conditions weren’t easy in the crosswind but the South Africans, despite reaching the final and who were not expected to spoil the British party, never let things get away from them. They were 1.49 seconds behind Denmark at 500m (holding third), before Britain went past them, leaving them in fourth going through 1,000 and 1,500m. But they were never further back off the lead than 2.45sec.

And when they decided to put the hammer down they left Australia for dead, and then began to hunt down Britain and Denmark. It was a fight for glory, and it was one of the gutsiest displays you’ll ever see from a boat carrying South Africans.

They drove to the line, hitting it in 6min 02.84sec and for a few moments the result was in doubt. They knew they had a medal … and then came confirmation. It was gold. South Africans don’t seem to be doing gold at these Olympics. They’re simply putting the gold into our green.

Brittain’s parents, Daniel and Danielle, were understandably overjoyed. “This is a massive result but they’ve worked so hard. We’re so proud of them,” said Daniel.

When the field had raced past them at their vantage point alongside the river at Eton Dorney, South Africa weren’t in the medals. However, Danielle says she never gave up hope. “We saw this in Lucerne when they came from fifth to second. I knew that we were watching something special. They were putting everything into it and their timing was perfect.”

There was high praise from the greatest Olympic rower of all time, Sir Steven Redgrave. “For them to come from behind, with all that effort and win South Africa’s first rowing gold medal was incredible.

“They had a lot of water to get back, but they stepped up and overtook some classy boats. It was a great win,” the rowing legend added.

In the official South African Sascoc handbook, Smith had described his motto as: “Do you know what awaits you beyond the finish line? Immortality ÔÇô take it.” Which is what he and three other heroes did.

The medal equalled South Africa’s best-ever gold haul at a post-isolation Olympics and there is much more to come. This was also the country’s first rowing medal after Donovan Cech and Ramon DiClemente won bronze at Athens 2004.

Lightweight fours means that all the rowers are roughly the same weight, averaging around 70kg and afterwards another British great, Sir Matthew Pinsent, admitted: “If you are impartial you’d have to say this was the greatest rowing finish the Olympics has ever seen.”

Joe Martheze
Joe Martheze

Sir Matthew Pinsent's comment says it all. It leaves nothing more to be said, other than, we arwe really proud to be South African sports supporters.

Joe Martheze
Joe Martheze

ir Matthew Pinsent's comment says it all. It leaves nothing more to be said, other than, we arwe really proud to be South African sports supporters.


  1. […] August 2nd, 2012 This afternoon I got on the car to drive home, to be met by news that the Lightweight Men’s Four SA team took gold. It was just a fantastic feeling that we made 8th in the Olympic medal list, as I […]