South Africa bagged their third gold at the London Olympics on Thursdaywhen the lightweight fours rowing crew of Matthew Brittain, Lawrence Sizwe Ndlovu, John Smith and James Thompson powered back from a seemingly impossible position to grab victory.
While the country was caught up in a wave of patriotic fervour over the unexpected success, the four rowers knew that a victory was never out of the question after recent wins over all the other finalists gave them the belief and hope that a gold was possible.
Team manager Roger Barrow was ecstatic after the win and full of praise for the way in which the team prepared.
“I think the boys did really well out there today,” he said a little while after watching the gold medals being hung around the necks of his four rowers. “I think the medal was won in the way they approached this final.
“They had a really good build-up and had beaten all the other crews in the final, so knew they could do it out there.”
In difficult, windy conditions the South African crew jumped away to a fast start but quickly settled into a smooth energy-conserving rhythm, which was to prove vital later.
The defending champion Danish crew opened up what looked to be a golden lead over the first quarter, chased by the Australians, while the British were recovering from a bad start.
At half-way the South Africans had slipped to more than two seconds off the pace, and it looked like their hopes of gold were slipping under the waves of the Eton Dorney course, but they picked up the pace over the second half.
With 500m to go things had closed up, but it was only over the final 150m that the South Africans began to give their legion of new fans hope that a victory was possible.
As the Danish lost rhythm in the choppy water, and the Australians and British paid for their earlier efforts, the fast-finishing crew kicked through and got their bow ahead just enough to hang on for one of the closest rowing finishes at the Olympics.
The first three crews all finished within 0.32 seconds of each other, and the Britons only beat the Australians to the silver medal by a mere seven hundredths of a second.
The news still did not seem to have sunk in a few hours later when Ndlovu, still excited and struggling to compose himself, spoke to The Mercury.
“I am so excited about this… I do not even think it has sunk in yet,” he said.
“It was a lot of hard work, but it has all been worth it now.”
And it will be worth it financially as well, with the win earning R100 000 for each rower as part of Sascoc’s incentive programme.
In other less golden action at the Olympics on Thursday, the women’s hockey team did well to hold powerful 2004 Olympic champions Germany for most of the match.
The final score was 2-0 after the Germans scored a goal each side of the break.
The sailing pair of Asenathi Jim and Roger Hudson had a tough start to their 470 class sailing.
The opening day of their event saw them finish 20th in the first race before struggling to a disappointing 27th out of the 27-boat field in the second.
The crew are now lying 26th overall, but there is plenty of time to make up ground in the 10-race series.
Young Alistair Davis, the so-called baby-faced assassin, who was nearly seven years younger than all the other competitors in the double trap shooting event, performed admirably to end in 15th position overall.
The 19-year-old is very much one of Sascoc’s future Olympians whom the body hope will be medal contenders in Rio in four years time, and his showing at his first appearance at the Olympics gives hope that 2016 could turn out to be even more of a medal fest than these Games are likely to be. – The Mercury