SA's golden oarsman retires

Matthew Brittain (Gallo Images)
Matthew Brittain (Gallo Images)

Pretoria -  Matthew Brittain, a member of South Africa’s Olympic gold medal men’s lightweight fours rowing team, has announced his retirement due to a persistent back injury.

"I’ve retired officially... for the sake of the team. They can’t train with me with a second option in mind," Brittain said in Pretoria on Tuesday.

"In sport you need to commit 100 percent, so they have to commit without me and it is up to me to make my comeback if I can.

"For me it is very tough. It is life decisions, and your health comes first and it is hard to sacrifice that."

Brittain, Sizwe Ndlovu, James Thompson and John Smith surged in the last stretch in the final at the 2012 London Olympic Games to claim South Africa’s third gold medal.

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.

Mike Voerman took Brittain’s seat at the World Championships in Korea earlier this year, when they finished sixth in the final.

Brittain said he had been suffering from the injury for a long time and after initial surgery had been able to participate at the highest level.

The back injury resurfaced after the Olympics and he had to re-evaluate his future in the sport.

"I hurt my back in school back in 2005. My back got a little bit sore from waking up really early and training without stretching," he said.

"I had a bulging disk which I nursed until 2010. I had discectomy and I had a few good years after the discectomy until the Olympics, where I had no problems."

Brittain said he would undergo surgery again if he wanted to continue rowing and, depending on his recovery, he could make his return to the boat.

"If I have the operation done then I have three levels of my back that aren’t moving and it puts a lot of strain, so I don’t see it lasting three years," he said.

"Maybe at the end of next year, then I can do it and it can last for two years and get me to Rio. Then I can retire happily."

He said he still had an eye on making the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, but knew full well that it would take a special effort to regain his seat in the boat.

"I need about six months of proper rehab to get myself back into shape to be able to train, then another six months to get into decent shape," a hopeful Brittain said.

"There are young guys that have taken my spot, so I’ll have to focus on being fast enough to be the best... in the world, and that is how you get your seat back."

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