The challenge that faces Roger Barrow, South Africa’s national rowing coach, and his rowers while they are preparing for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio is an unrelenting quest for speed. South Africa has qualified four boats (the men’s and women’s lightweight double sculls and the men’s and women’s pairs) for the Games and there is still a chance of maybe also qualifying a boat in the men’s fours. Barrow (Tuks/HPC) is not only a hard taskmaster but an absolute perfectionist as well.
According to him the hard work only really starts after having qualified the four crews. Barrow says: ‘My goal has never been to get a big participation at the Games. My goal as coach is to make sure the boats we have qualified are very fast by the time the Games start so that they will all have realistic chances to medal.’ Not believing in leaving anything to fate Barrow and the ten top rowers went to train in Rio for ten days.
They returned last week and are now in Lesotho for the first of four high altitude camps there. He says: ‘The idea of going to Rio was to give the rowers an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the Olympic surroundings so that they know where everything is and what the food is like. We monitored the effect jetlag had on them and we also monitored their heartrates, lactate levels, etcetera, while they were training at sea-level.’ Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler, who won a bronze medal in the lightweight women’s pairs at the World Championships in Auguebelette, France, said they were grateful for the opportunity because it gave them a chance to familiarize themselves with Rio.
A definite highlight was their hiking trips up the Sugarloaf Mountain and to the Christ the Redeemer statue. McCann described the hikes as surprisingly strenuous. Barrow says: ‘People probably think it is just a nice little walk to get to the top but it is pretty intense. If you are not fit you won’t cope. I am glad we did it because now we are able to tick it off our to-do list and just focus on being at our best in the boat.’
On 22 May the men’s fours will have an opportunity to try to qualify for the Games. At the moment it is not a forgone conclusion which rowers will be part of the four men crew. Barrow says: ‘Shaun Keeling, David Hunt, Sizwe Ndlovu, Lawrence Brittain, Vince Breet and Jonty Smith are all battling it out to be in the men’s pair crew because that is the boat that has already qualified. This competition is good because the more they push each other the faster the men’s pair boat will eventually be. The ultimate would to have three very fast men’s pair combinations because then we will have a fast men’s pair combination as well as a fast four’s crew.’
Barrow finds it encouraging that all his crews are clocking faster times now than they did at the same time last year.
Photo credit: Roger Barrow