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Rowing wants steady growth

The South African rowing team will aim for realistic goals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, reports Gareth Duncan.

The harsh reality is that rowing in the country is still very much amateur, and still several years away from developing into a professional sport. There are also currently only 15 seniors in the national squad.

So the fact that the men’s lightweight coxless four crew (James Thompson, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and Lawrence Ndlovu) achieved a gold medal was a surprise feat. Their World Rowing Crew of the Year and the South African Team of the Year awards, after their achievements in London, emphasize this.

So the main question is: What can we expect from the South African rowing team in 2016?

Head coach Roger Barrow said the sport is aiming for consistency.

‘I know there are expectations of winning more than one medal at the next Games, but that’s not realistic,’ Barrow told RoadtoRio.co.za. ‘The main goal is claiming another podium finish. We also want to have at least three crews qualify for the Games, and we want them to make their respective finals.

‘Once you reach that final, anything can happen. So we want to be consistent. And with consistent success, hopefully the sport will grow.’

Barrow was part of the 900-strong attendance at the second annual SASCOC coaching conference in Boksburg. While the national rowing federation has certain development plans in place, he said there were other ideas he picked up from the keynote speeches and other coaches during the three-day function which he wants to use.

‘With our Olympic medal, we’re getting plenty of exposure,’ said Barrow. ‘But we always get the common question: “When is the next Dusi?” People don’t actually know much about rowing.

‘So it’s great to get our rowers involved in these SASCOC initiatives, which educates other coaches and people about rowing. But the nice thing is that we have also learnt a lot.

‘I’ve chatted to several coaches and they pass on their knowledge and experience to me. I realise that we all have the passion and determination to succeed, so learning from each other is a big advantage. Even the small tips help, like the influence of a cellphone and how we need to control the athlete’s use of it.’

Barrow added that there is an increased interest in rowing from the youth (especially at school level) since the gold medal achieved in London. The good news is that there is already a talent identification in place.

‘Our top young rowers come from Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Cape. But we only really start looking at young rowers from the ages of 18-20. That’s when they’re at the base of their physiological training and we start polishing the rough diamonds.

‘I also believe we can get other athletes involved in rowing especially the elite swimmers who just miss out on the Olympic qualifying times. I’ve already chatted to Graham about the chance of pinching some of his athletes, who are not likely to make it to the Olympics. Just because they won’t make it in swimming, doesn’t mean they can’t make it in any other sports.

‘Once we get the South African talent competing in the correct sports, we will achieve so much more success at an international level.

‘So there are structures in place. We have certain steps planned for 2016 and 2020. So here’s hoping rowing will continue to grow from here.’


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