Johannesburg – Olympic rowing gold medallists James Thompson and Matt Brittain hope to grow rowing in the country with the launch of the John Waugh Rock the Boat Regatta at Roodeplaat Dam, near Pretoria, on Saturday.

The duo have taken inspiration from the famous Henley Royal Regatta in England and are aiming to develop their event into something similar.

In order to bring a competitive edge to rowing and make it more spectator friendly, they have come up with a unique format for the regatta.

Instead of dividing races into different boat classes, rowers will go head-to-head in combined events which included everything from eights to sculls.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a men’s eight or a women’s single Äif you are in the top eight you would make it into the final,” Thompson said.

“The finals are just off times and it creates this incredibly close racing. At our first race, David Hunt, the world Under-23

champion was racing neck-and-neck with the girls octuple.”

The regatta will start with heats in the morning before crews are ranked into a series of finals based on their times in the eight-lane format.

“If it turns into an international thing, it is cool, but we want to make the South African athlete experience better and, by doing that, more people will be attracted to the sport,” Thompson said ahead of the second edition of the regatta.

Brittain and Thompson had a soft launch in November last year where they first tested the water with 300 athletes participating.

Thompson said the entries had almost doubled and they expected the event to grow further.

“We've got 500 athletes – it is not quite as high as we wanted – but the school half-term has affected us,” he said.

“It is still much bigger than it was the last time, so we must be happy.”

The regatta would, nevertheless, attract some of the country's top rowers with the South African team expected to be in action.

“By the end of the time trial, we will race all the big names from the national teams,” said Thompson, who will, along with Brittain, be commentating from the dam's edge.

“Basically the whole national team will be there. We will have everything from Under-23 world champion David Hunt, Olympic A-finalist Shaun Keeling, student world champion Kirsten McCann, and Olympic gold medallists John Smith and Sizwe Ndlovu.

“We'll have the winner of the silver sculls from the Buffalo Grand Challenge, South Africa’s second biggest race, Lloyd Bemelman.”

Watching from the banks, spectators will be entertained sipping Pimms – a typical English drink synonymous with the Henley Regatta – while the country’s first Olympic medallist Ramon di Clemente would give some insight into rowing.

“The weather looks good so the sun will be out and it will be a relaxed atmosphere right on the water's edge,” Thompson said.

“We've got Paul Jackson and Ramon di Clemente as our main two speakers at lunch time.

“Ramon has obviously medalled at the Olympics and Paul has been involved in all the lightweight crews that have done well at the Olympic Games including the gold in London.”

Head races will start at 8.30am, while Thompson said they hoped to get the finals underway at 10.30am. – Sapa