#TuksRowing: John Smith and Chris Baxter proved at Swiss World Cup they are up to competing against the best

Posted on May 27, 2024

The South African hopeful Olympian combination John Smith and Chris Baxter missed out by 0.11 seconds on medalling during the 2024 World Cup Rowing II in Lucerne, Switzerland. 

The men's pair combination based at Tuks finished fourth. With 500 metres to go, they were still in third place. The Spanish crew of Jaime Puzos and Javier Ordonez upturned the proverbial applecart with their speedy heroics over the last quarter of the race. Moving up from fourth to second. 

The final was a near repeat of what happened during last year's World Championships final. But this time, Britain's Oliver Wynne-Griffith and Tom George were the inform crew. They took the lead from the start and never relented winning. Their winning time was 6:32.56. The Spanish crew was second in 6:35.19. Last year's defending champions, Roman Roeosli and Andrin Gulich (Switzerland), were third in 6:35.77, with the South Africans fourth in 6:35.88.

Smith and Baxter qualified last year to compete at the Paris Olympic Games. Grant Dodds, RMB National Squad Performance Manager, said yesterday's result proves that the South African's crew is on track to peak at the Paris Games. 

"John and Chris, along with Tiago Loureiro (national coach), are now off to France to train on the Olympic course in Vaires-sur-Marne," said Dodds.

With Sascoc's next Olympic team announcement, Smith will join an exclusive club including Khotso Mokoena, Ryk Neethling, Hendrik Ramaala, Roland Schoeman Chad le Clos, and Sunette Viljoen, who have competed at four Olympic Games. 

The Tuks alumni made his Olympic debut in 2012 in London, where he was part of the "Oarsome Foursome" that won gold. During the 2016 Games in Rio, men's fours just missed out on a medal, finishing fourth. During the 2021 Tokyo Games, things did not go as planned. Smith and teammates ended up being 10th. 

Rumours had it that Smith had retired, but there was never an official announcement. 

In an interview with Olympics.com, Smith admitted that he could not forget what had happened in Tokyo. Being the competitor he is, it was not how he wanted to end his career as an Olympic rower. 

Smith wanted redemption. So he started to train again, but he needed a challenge. So he talked with "Coach Tiago" about making a comeback and was encouraged to do so.

According to Loureiro, he knew from the start that Smith would establish himself again as one of South Africa's foremost rowers. 

"John is a racer. He feels he is left with unfinished business after the Tokyo Olympic Games. He never stopped training, but none of us expected him to find form so quickly. He was unstoppable during last year's trials for "the pair's boat."

It led to him being paired with Baxter, a former under-23 world champion and 10 years his junior, to represent South Africa at the World Championships in Belgrade in September 2023. The "old man and the youngster" did what was expected of them by finishing sixth in the A-final. It meant they had qualified for the Paris Games. 

It is given that the South African crew will be competitive in Parid. When it comes to racing, Smith firmly believes in not complicating matters. To him, racing is about what happens out on the water. It is boat versus boat. The moment of truth when rowers get to know whether all the hours of hard work and sacrifices will pay off.

- Author Wilhelm De Swardt

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