South Africa’s top rowers do not accept mediocrity. This became abundantly clear during the South African Rowing Championships at the Roodeplaat Dam during the weekend. As was expected, James Thompson and John Smith easily won the men’s pair race on Sunday.
In doing so they also broke the course record that has been on the books for quite a few years. However, after the race they made it clear that they did not consider their performance to be very special. Smith says: ‘It is always good to get your name into the record books and, hopefully, our record will stay intact for a few years. But we have to be realistic. Our winning time of 6 minutes and 23 seconds is nearly 18 seconds off the world record of 6:05.36 we set at last year’s World Championships in Amsterdam. So there is still a lot of hard work that awaits us if we want to be competitive in international regattas.’
Thompson described their race performance as merely getting the job done: ‘We both started to feel flat about halfway through our race. We had raced the single sculls just three hours before and our “tanks” were empty.’ Actually it has been a good morning for Thompson. He managed to beat Smith in a single sculls race for the first time in two years.
The Olympic and World Championships team-mates really had a go at each other. The High Performance Centre (HPC)/Tuks pair basically rowed neck and neck during the first 1500 metres. With about 250 metres to go, Thompson put in a sudden spurt of acceleration which enabled him to get ahead of Smith to win in 7 minutes 2.80 seconds.
Sizwe Ndlovu timed his finish to perfection to pip Smith by a few metres for the second position (7:07.20), with Smith finishing third (7:07.50). Thompson says: ‘John has obviously been a bit off-colour during the past week, so I was happy to strike. Winning the title is rewarding, but in the bigger scheme of things I think the fact that John and I were able to really push each other to the limit means that we are both becoming faster and faster for when we team up again to race in the men’s pair.’ Smith was gracious in defeat saying: ‘It is never nice to lose at a South African Championships, but I am fine with it. James has definitely been in form over the past week and he deserved to win. I have not been at my best, but it is no excuse. I just need to up my game and come back stronger. In my mind I know that am capable of performing better.’
On his Whatsapp account Smith posted something about having rest days. When asked about it he responded by saying: ‘Rest day! That is why nobody will remember your name. People keep asking me when we as rowers take a break or go on a holiday, but for now there is no chance of doing so. If you want to be the best, you have to train every day. There is no two ways about the fact that consistent training is the most important aspect in the quest for success. We will take a holiday for three weeks after the World Championships and after that we will resume our training. I can count on my one hand the number of days I took off so far this year.’ Shaun Keeling and David Hunt won the men’s pair-race in 6:39.90, with Vincent Breet and Jonty Smith finishing second in 6:48.10.
The Zimbabwean, Micheen Thornycroft, who is training with the Tuks/HPC rowers, won the women’s single sculls in 7:41.80, with Ursula Grobler second in 7:44.80 and Kirsten McCann third in 7:49.20. Grobler and McCann teamed up to win the lightweight women’s double in 7:02.50. Naydene Smith and Lee-Ann Persse won the women’s pair in 7:23.00.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott