No sponsors, but SA rowers stay afloat

By Drum Digital
13 March 2013

After storming to the country's third gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the South African men's lightweight fours rowing team grabbed the attention of the nation.

Fast forward seven months and the memory of the magnificent come-from-behind effort from the 'oarsome foursome' of Matthew Brittain, Sizwe Ndlovu, James Thompson and John Smith seems to be fading.

The quartet added the accolade of the World Rowing Federation's 2012 Male Crew of the Year to end a phenomenal season, but despite these achievements, there was no subsequent scramble from corporate sponsors, and life for the crew and the national squad has returned to normal.

Speaking at a sprint session on the Roodeplaat Dam, north of Pretoria, national rowing coach Roger Barrow said they had never seen the lack of funding as a roadblock towards realising their dreams.

Instead, Barrow and his committed crop of athletes remained focussed on factors within their control.

"It is not a big issue. Training is the big issue...all our focus is on trying to get the training and the technical things right," Barrow said.

"The equipment is a sub issue and it is nice to have, but it doesn't mean that is why we are going to go slower.

"Life is not fair, and we have to have that attitude or the guys will suffer."

Barrow is not a man to search for excuses as to why his charges might fail, but instead finds solutions for them to succeed.

That attitude was translated into gold at the Games where the odds were heavily stacked against the South Africans.

The crew's heroic charge over the final metres of the Olympic final demonstrated their can-do attitude as they scooped the country's second rowing medal in the history of the Games.

"In the race we were just thinking of going harder and we just started shouting 'gold'," Brittain said at the time.

"We said the whole season we only had one goal -- when anyone of us says that, then everyone has to say 'gold'."

While their competitors were training with state of the art equipment, Barrow said the South Africans were still going through their paces with an old boat, in the wake of their Olympic achievement.

"I rented the boat we used at the Olympic Games, and I've been trying to get one here but there is no money to buy one," Barrow said.

"They are training in an older boat that is the wrong shape, but it does the job."

Due to a lack of funding, the SA rowing team will participate in only the third and final World Rowing Cup series event in Lucerne, Switzerland, in June ahead of the 2013 World Rowing Championships in South Korea in August.

"We usually do other World Cup events and I am still waiting to get funding for those trips," Barrow said.

"If we don't get the money we just keep on training, but we will go to South Korea and the world championships.

"Our attitude is, 'if we don't have something, it doesn't mean we can't do something', so we can stay here. We have a nice lake and we train every day."

Looking ahead to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Barrow said they hoped to enter four boats, all capable of competing for medals.

"We are looking at four boats for the next Olympic Games with our previous guys (the lightweight fours), a women's pair (Naydene Smith and Lee-Ann Persse), a men's pair and a women's lightweight double sculls team."

Barrow made it clear that no rower would make the team based on reputation, and with Ndlovu and Brittain nursing injuries, they could find themselves fighting for a place.

"No one's seat is safe. You've got to earn the right to have your seat."

-by Sapa

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