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Tough grind for SA's new generation of rowers

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JOHANNESBURG - A host of new faces, mixed with a few seasoned campaigners, has South African rowing testing the waters after two successful Olympic cycles.

Renowned national rowing coach Roger Barrow is getting to know his new crop of rowers after the loss of a few stalwarts who formed the heart of his successful rowing squad.

Making a promising start to the season, the squad earned a few podium finishes at the Memorial Paolo d’Aloja International Regatta in Italy over the weekend.

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Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler race at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

“It was my first tour with some of these athletes - like Nicole van Wyk, Nicholas Oberholzer and Vaughn Botes, it is quite daunting how young these guys are,” Barrow said.

“It put in perspective that there is a long road ahead, and to try and build a team to where we were before Rio is quite a long process. I must reflect on what lies ahead.”

As one of the senior members of the squad, world bronze medallist Kirsten McCann is leading the way early in the season, winning two events over the weekend.

She won the women’s lightweight single sculls A-finals on Saturday, before moving up a category to snare the heavyweight single sculls the next day.

“(McCann) is in sublime form. She had a great regatta, and was very nervous about racing up a category. The Latvian woman (Elza Gulbe) she beat, won the silver medal at the European Championships last year,” Barrow said.

“She came back really motivated. She is happy to be in the single and not in a crew boat after the last three years.

“We will try and keep her in a single boat for a long time, so that she can grow in her own rowing and get as fast as she can.”

McCann has been one of the country’s top rowers for over a decade, making her debut at the Beijing Olympic Games before winning the Under-23 lightweight women’s single sculls bronze medal in 2010.

Two years ago she made history winning the lightweight double sculls bronze medal with Ursula Grobler at the World Championships in France.

Finishing second behind McCann in the lightweight single sculls final on Saturday, rising star Van Wyk won the same category the next day in the absence of the Rio Olympian.

The regatta was the first international race for Rio Olympic silver medallist Lawrence Brittain in the absence of retired partner Shaun Keeling.

Testing different combinations among the heavyweight men, Brittain partnered Rio Olympian Jake Green with the duo finishing third in Saturday’s pairs final before finishing second in the same event on Sunday.

Promising lightweight men, Oberholzer and Botes, finished in sixth place in the double sculls.

After finishing fourth at last year’s Under-23 World Championships in the men’s lightweight doubles sculls, Botes and Oberholzer will be looking for a podium finish at this year’s age-group championships in Bulgaria in July.

Van Wyk will also be looking to upgrade her 2016 Under-23 World Championships silver medal to gold, instead of making the step-up to the senior edition later in the year.

This year’s world championships will be hosted relatively late in the year compared to previous seasons when it was hosted at the end of August in Sarasota, Florida.

“I’ve got a lot of time. I need to decide what I will do with the whole team.

“I will change a few combinations over the next few weeks and see what we can do to go faster,” Barrow said.

The Star

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