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SA rowers go to great heights in Rio preparations

Far from the comforts of their base in Pretoria, the South African rowing team have been sweating it out at a three-week high-altitude training camp on the Katse Dam in an isolated part of Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains.

Following the men’s lightweight fours gold medal success at the 2012 London Olympic Games, coach Roger Barrow decided to up the ante in his pursuit of more silverware, reports Sapa’s Ockert de Villiers.

While South African rowers have in the past attended altitude training camps, the coach had to find new ways of giving the team an added edge. ÔÇ£Building up to London we always used Bethlehem as a training venue for high altitude. At a height of 1750m, it was a really good venue,ÔÇØ Barrow said.

ÔÇ£Post-Olympics, I’ve been looking for something different and how to get an edge and be better in Rio.ÔÇØ

Barrow researched ideal settings and found Motebong Village which housed the engineers who worked on the Katse Dam in the 1990s. It was converted into a resort after the construction was completed.

Situated in the Leribe region of the Mountain Kingdom, the village is a 500 km drive from Pretoria and one has to navigate the steep Mafika Lisiu Pass with the peak reaching 3000m above sea level before dropping down to 2100m to the dam’s edge (see picture right).

ÔÇ£A lot of people talk about high-altitude training but they haven’t really tried it when they talk about going to 2000m,ÔÇØ the rowing coach said. ÔÇ£So I found this place a few months ago and we are giving it a try and will see what benefits we can get from being up here.

ÔÇ£There is a lot of research which says being at 2000m to 2200m is the ideal place to be. We also had to find water because we are a water sport and Katse Dam is exactly at 2050m.ÔÇØ

As part of his reconnaissance, Barrow had to determine whether they would have easy access to medical services to ensure the safety of the close-to-20 rowers who would attend the camp.

The nearest medical facilities, however, were in Bethlehem, South Africa ÔÇô a two-and-half-hour drive away ÔÇô while an emergency medical helicopter would not be able to reach them in the case of a serious accident.

ÔÇ£I was very nervous in the beginning to come here because the medical side is the biggest risk for us, if something goes wrong. A bad bike accident and how we solve that because the medical care here isn’t great ÔÇô those are the negatives,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£The positives are being able to be here for three weeks, no-one leaves and we can get really good quality training with no disturbances.

ÔÇ£We found a chef that really cooks well, there are some good places for cross training like mountain biking and running, and we’ve been able to bring up some of our weightlifting equipment and an equipment room.ÔÇØ

Barrow also consulted with local chiefs and received guarantees that the herds boys who tend cattle and sheep with their dogs on the highlands would not interfere with the tourists.

Converting the resort into a training facility proved to be a logistical nightmare as all the equipment had to be transported from Pretoria.

ÔÇ£We had to make sure we brought all our boats, so we have 29 boats here ÔÇô we have some one-man boats, some doubles and pairs that we brought up,ÔÇØ he said.

ÔÇ£We brought a whole set of weights equipment to cater for three weight-training sessions a week and we also brought 20 rowing machines for the guys to do all their training on.

ÔÇ£We brought coaching boats and really all the equipment we need to make sure we are sustainable for three weeks.ÔÇØ

The rowing team went into camp on 24 November and would return home this weekend.


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