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Three of four SA boats pull through to semi-finals
- Updated: August 8, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
Strong winds forced the cancellation of rowing action at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas on Sunday but on Monday South Africa showed they’re a force to be reckoned with as three of the four boats in action breezed into their semi-finals.
The lightweight women’s double skulls, women’s pairs and men’s double skulls all went through directly and it was only the men’s fours who hit a hiccup, having to come back to Tuesday’s repechage for another crack at the semi-finals.
First up in action were the lightweight crew of Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler who led from start to finish and clocked a winning time of 7min 07.37 for the 2000-metre stretch.
Already 3.41 sec clear of Ireland after 500m they extended their lead in every quarter to win by 10.91sec in the end.
Looking on was rowing coach Paul Jackson and, although he doesn’t actually coach this specific boat, he still liked what he saw. ‘There was a slight cross-wash which they handled well though. They just did what it took to get them through to the semi and I really liked their “togetherness”.’
Speaking afterwards, a calm and collected McCann said: ‘We just take each race as it comes, really just getting the race done and one race at a time. In this sport you can’t get ahead of yourself.
‘Coach Roger [Barrow] has done a really good job of rigging the boat and we’re ready for any conditions. It’s challenging but we have trained for anything.’
Added Grobler: ‘This sport is such a humbling code. It may look easy from the outside but it’s anything but. We are beastly on ourselves.
‘I always say that from the shore it may look like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony but in the boat it’s more like something by Metallica.’
Then it was the turn of James Thompson and Jon Smith in the lightweight men’s double skulls.
They went off in the fourth heat and Great Britain set the pace with a 1.47sec lead after 500m and a 1.37 gap at the halfway mark, But the SA duo who were part of the gold medal-winning lightweight fours at the last Olympics, hauled the early leaders in 4min 23sec into the race and with 500m to go were 0.66sec ahead.
They went on to win in 6:23.10 which was 2.52 quicker than the Brits.
While the times wouldn’t have meant that much in conditions like Monday, Thompson was ‘relatively happy.’
‘We came here in November and experienced the crosswind and have now focused on it’
Added Smith: ‘I thought we handled the conditions well, we’ve always known what we were getting into.’
In order to cope better with the prevailing crosswinds there’s now a rudder in the boat. ‘It makes a big difference and now we don’t have to compensate as much with the steering. It took a long time to settle but coming from a sweep-oar rowing background made it easier.’
On their opposition going into the semis, Smith said: ‘France are the favourites while Norway also beat us at the Lucerne World Cup. So those two are on top of the food chain and it’s up to us to catch them.’
Third boat in action was the women’s pair of 2012 Olympian Lee-Ann Perse and Kate Christowitz. Rowing in the second heat, they were up against a strong New Zealand outfit and the Kiwis went on to win in 7:09.23 with South Africa second, 2.06 adrift as the first three boats went through in this category.
‘Today conditions was rowable… still rough but this is what we prepared for.. it was fun in the bumps,’ said Christowitz. ‘It gets rough in middle but flatter at the top, but overall pretty consistent. We trained in the wind and knew what it was going to be like.’
Persse added: ‘We like to come back strong… it was a good finish and it was under control, good to get the legs burning again.’
Fourth and final boat in the day’s action, and remember, four years ago in London there were only two boats, was the men’s four.
On this occasion it wasn’t a case of leaving the best for last though as the SA combination could only managed fourth, after hanging on to second until the halfway mark when they were passed by both Greece and France.
Great Britain won in 5:55.59 with SA cruising across the line in 6:01.64.
Back to Jackson who does coach this combination. ‘It was hard and brutal and we didn’t handle the conditions as well as we should
‘But we still have tomorrow’s repechage to put things right and still get a spot in the semi-finals.’
Picture of Grobler, front and McCann, courtesy of Christiaan Kotze/SASPA