Lawrence Brittain will represent South Africa next month at the Henley Royal Regatta and the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland just four months after finding out that he has beaten cancer. Something totally unforeseen will have to happen to prevent him from representing South Africa at the World Championships (30 August to 6 September) in Aiguebelette, France. Brittain says: ‘It is amazing to be back and I am really looking forward to the challenge of being involved in trying to help qualify an extra boat for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio. I know it will be tough but I am ready for it,’
Brittain is known among his friends as “The Beast” and with good reason. He personifies the concept of never giving up. In spite of suffering from Hodgkin’s disease, also known as cancer of the lymph node, he still managed to finish fifth with David Hunt and Willie Morgan in the Coxed Pair final at last year’s World Championships in Amsterdam. Brittain was also in action with Hunt last year in the semi-final of the Henley Regatta without him realizing that he was actually seriously ill.
The Tuks/HPC athlete ascribes his ‘comeback’ to the fact that he did not succumb to the temptation of doing too much too soon. He says: ‘Obviously I could not wait to start participating in competitive rowing again, but I had to be realistic. It was important that I took it one day at a time. At first my only goal was to regain my strength and fitness. My patience paid off because I could feel during the past few weeks that I was getting stronger with each training session.’ Brittain is quite excited about the fours heavyweight crew of which he is
He says: ‘I am sitting at the back. In front of me is Jonty Smith, who is the South African record holder on the Ergo-rowing machine. In front of him is Sizwe Ndlovu, a gold medallist at the 2012 Olympic Games, and in front of him we have Vincent Breedt, a bronze medallist at last year’s World Championships. So we have quite a formidable team. Now we just need to work towards getting the boat to go as fast as we can.’ Brittain has won a gold and silver medal at the Under-23 World Championships previously and South Africa’s national rowing coach Roger Barrow has made it clear that he is not expecting fireworks from the heavy-weight fours crew at the Henley Regatta or in Lucerne.
Barrow says: ‘They are still a new boat and in the beginning things are never easy. Luckily the World Championships is still 12 weeks away so we have time to make the boat work and go faster.’ The other teams who will also try to qualify boats for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio are James Thompson and John Smith (lightweight men’s double sculls); Ursula Grobler and Kirsten McCann (lightweight women’s double sculls); Shaun Keeling and David Hunt (men’s pair) and Naydene Smith and Lee-Ann Persse (women’s pair).
Thompson and Smith (Tuks/HPC) are the defending world champions. Barrow admits that it will be tough for them to defend their title, saying: ‘But it will be a mistake to write James and John off. They are as tough as nails and ruthless racers who never give up. What makes them good is the fact that they are always hungry to learn something new.’ Barrow is quietly optimistic that Grobler and McCann might be able to win a medal at the World Championships.