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Inspired by gold medals to Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh, the men’s lightweight rowing crew of Matthew Brittain, Sizwe Ndlovu, John Smith and James Thompson grabbed South Africa’s third gold medal of the London Olympic Games to move the country up to eighth on the medal table.
The victory was based on a perfectly judged race which saw the crew produce a stunning final 500m to accelerate past the crews who were struggling to hang on in the difficult conditions.
“I can’t believe it,” said Smith just after climbing out of their boat. “The swimming medals really inspired us.”
“I just kept my head down in the boat and we saved ourselves for the final sprint. They say the big sprinters finish second – but not today ... our stroke, Lawrence (Ndlovu) took us home.”
A quick start from the “oarsome foursome” seemed to have been wasted when the Danish boat jumped clear, and then South Africa were passed by the pre-race favourites Australians and the British. Lying fourth at the halfway mark, a gold seemed out of the question with over two seconds to make up on the defending champion Danish crew.
The gold still looked unlikely at the 1 500m mark with the Australians moving up to challenge the Danes and South Africa and Britain trailing in what looked to be the battle for the final medal.
In a perfectly judged final 500m the South Africans powered past their rivals, first into the medal positions and then as the line approached they edged ahead to cross the line in a time of 6.02.84, with the next two crews of GB and Denmark also crossing the line within a third a second.
With the fourth placed Australians also finishing within 1,21 seconds of the gold medal boat, this was one of the closest finishes ever for a rowing event at the Olympics. – IOL