#TuksRowing: SA rowers quest to qualify for the Tokyo Games is only starting

Posted on February 28, 2020

One boat, two spots but four contenders is the challenge South Africa's foremost men's rowers face who are hoping to compete at the  Tokyo Olympic Games.
During last year's World Championships Lawrence Brittain and John Smith, both former Olympic medallists qualified in the men's pairs for the Games, but it is no guarantee that they will compete.
When it comes to the Olympic Games, there is only one criterion. You got to be the best. Every rower has accepted the challenge laid down by South Africa's head coach, Roger Barrow who is based at Tuks.
As things stand, Lawrence Brittain (Tuks) seems the only one likely to compete in Tokyo. But judging by the recent results of the Buffalo Regatta in East London even he can't afford to rest on his laurels. Kyle Schoonbee, John Smith and Jake Green are all still in the hunt to compete at the Games.
Brittain and Schoonbee won the men's pairs-race during the Buffalo Regatta, but they were made to work for it. In the end, they managed to beat John Smith and Jake Green by just more than a second. The same four rowers were also the main protagonists in the men's four race. 
Although Brittain and Schoonbee were part of the crew that won the men's fours, Barrow emphasised that he is not even close to deciding who the Olympic men's pair is going to be. The first indication of Barrow's thinking might be when he announces the teams to compete in April during the Memorial Paulo D'Aloju in Piediluco, Italy.
During last year's regatta, Brittain and Smith won the men's pairs race. They then teamed up with Green and David Hunt to win the men's fours. 
Barrow's biggest frustration is that the recent rains led to the hyacinth problem at Roodeplaatdam to flare up again. It means it isn't easy to get clear lanes which would enable the different combinations to race each other. 
Barrow is unsure as to whether a South African men's four crew will qualify for the Olympics. In 2016 they finished fourth at the Rio Olympics.
"My first priority is the men's pair. Only once the men's pairs crew has been established will the focus be to see whether we can qualify a men's four crew for the Games. The challenge we face is that some of the younger rowers are not quite ready to compete at an Olympic level."
South Africa has also yet to qualify a women's crew for the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, Tayla-May Bentley injured her hip to such an extent that she needs to undergo an operation. Last year Bentley and Jessica Schoonbee won silver during last year World Under-23 Championships.
Ursula Grobler, a former Olympic finalist, retired again which means Kirsten MacDonald and Nicole van Wyk (Tuks) are the only South African women's crew who is contention to compete in Tokyo. Barrow backs them, but he is also realistic. 
"The Olympic lightweight double sculls qualification race in May, Lucerne is going to be a humdinger. The Chinese crew who medalled during the 2016 Games has also yet to qualify as has the teams from Switzerland, USA and Australia. I would say whoever wins in Lucerne is also going to medal in Tokyo."
- Author Wilhelm de Swardt

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