South Africa achieved its third medal at the Rio De Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games on Thursday thanks to coxless pair rowers Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling. The two took the silver medal and this is the third time since 2004 that South Africa has won a rowing medal at the Olympics and it will hopefully not be the last, seeing that all four of South Africa’s other crews are through to their respective finals. Therefore, watch this space.
The rowers might just add one or two more medals to South Africa’s medal tally. A jubilant Brittain (Tuks/HPC) says: ‘Pretty stoked, that was a quality race from us. Everything went as planned. We are standing on the podium right now, job done. Years and years of hard work and now the whole system working for us and producing the results. It feels amazing.’ The fact that Brittain won a silver medal must be one of the Games’ biggest comeback stories.
In 2014 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, also known as cancer of the lymph node. But, being the fighter he is, it was never going to stop him. After months of treatment, his doctor gave him a clean bill of health in February 2015 and he was able to resume his training. The first goal Brittain set himself was to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Brittain is the second rower in his family to win a medal at the Olympic Games. In 2012 his brother, Matthew, was part of the ‘awesome foursome’ that won gold in London. Matthew has never doubted his younger brother’s abilities, saying: ‘Lawrence is able to put his head down and push his body harder than anyone I know and as an athlete that is what I respect the most.’ Keeling does not know the meaning of giving up either. In 2008 he finished fifth at the Games in Beijing, partnering Ramon Di Clementi (bronze medallist in 2004).
Being injury prone he missed out on the 2012 Games, but this setback only served as extra motivation. He says: ‘The ultimate achievement for me was to win a medal at the Games. Everything I did in the last four years was geared to help me make that a reality. During every training session I always focussed on what can still be done to get the boat going even faster. It will not be wrong to say that I set my goals stroke by stroke, day by day.’ New Zealand’s Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, who have not been beaten during the past seven years, won the men’s pairs in a time of 6:59.71. Brittain and Keeling were second in 7:02.51 and Italy’s Giovanni Abagnale and Marco di Constanzo third in 7:04.52.
The South Africans impressed with the way they fought right until the end. Between 500 metres and 1 500 metres it looked as if they were out of it, being in fourth place. But there was good reason for Brittain to say before the Games: ‘I haven’t won enough, so I keep going because I’m still hunting for that feeling of being the best.’ Over the last 500 metres they slowly clawed their way to third and then second.
Eric Murray and Hamish Bond haven’t been beaten in nine years and the New Zealanders are one of the dominant acts in sport. But they were pushed hard in the last 200m as South Africa’s Brittain and Keeling threw everything at them and were closing fast at the line.
Elsewhere, John Smith and James Thompson won their semi-final in the men’s lightweight double sculls. Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler were also victorious in the women’s lightweight double sculls, while Lee-Ann Persse and Kate Christowitch were third in the women’s pairs. David Hunt, Vince Breet, Jonty Smith and Jake Green deserve to be complimented for the way they fought back to finish second in their men’s fours semi-final. What made their performance even more special is the fact that they had to go through the repechage to progress to the semi-final.
Photo credits: Christiaan Kotze/SASPA