JOHANNESBURG - “When we are fighting off the ropes, I have no doubt we can win.” These words from South African men’s four stroke, Jake Green, and serves as a warning the crew will not be pulling any punches at the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota starting on Sunday.
Boasting a fine pedigree with two Olympic medallists occupying seats in the boat, the quartet has no reason to stand back for their competition.
The men’s four crew includes London 2012 Olympics gold medallist John Smith and Rio 2016 silver medallist Lawrence Brittain in the middle two seats to highlight its heavyweight status.
Green and David Hunt in the bow seat are the only two remaining crew members that narrowly missed out on a podium place in the men’s four final at the Rio Games.
After some fine tuning in ‘The Land of the Speed’ at a training camp in Tzaneen, the quartet are feeling bullish about their chances at the world championships.
“The last month or so we had a really good block and since the beginning of camp we stepped up big time,” Brittain said.
“I hope the training we have done now has pushed us to be able to box with the big dogs and not just for bronze but for the gold.”
The world championships represents an incredible reinvention for Smith, who only a year ago was still competing as a lightweight rower.
Smith has managed to put on the pounds and earn a spot in the men’s four boat in an ultra-competitive heavyweight class.
“It is the dream, but just to keep the weight on is harder than I had initially planned and also to get up to the weight was tough,” said Smith.
“Otherwise I am enjoying it, it is a different dynamic, it is new, it is exciting and the four has always had a special place in my heart.”
A post shared by Roger Barrow (@barrowrow) on
The crew took their boat for a test paddle at the third leg of the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne in July where they were beaten to the podium by a hair’s breadth.
They missed the bronze medal by five hundredths of a second finishing fourth in 5:54.770 with the British crew winning in a time of 5:52.920.
The defeat reminded of the 0.02 margin defeat Brittain and men’s pair partner Shaun Keeling suffered at the Lucerne regatta before the Rio Olympic Games.
‘Point two, never again’ was the rallying cry for Brittain and Keeling that motivated them over the final 500 metres at the Games to earn the silver medal.
“I haven’t used that call that much but we still have that hunger because we finished in fourth place even closer than last year,” Brittain said.
“We are not going to miss it by that close again, that is for sure, if it comes down to a tight race at the end in the last 200 metres, South Africa is not going to let it slip again.”
The main aim for the crew is to return from the United States with a medal but if they want gold they would have to beat one of the proudest and best men’s four rowing nations in Great Britain, who have won five consecutive Olympic titles.
The Australian crew that beat Britain on the second leg of the World Cup in Poznan for gold will also be in the running for the first spot.
Hunt, however, takes comfort from the fact that South Africa seems to catch up to their European counterparts as the season progress.
“A lot of the world champs depends on how each crew’s preparation goes and we generally find that the European teams are closer to their peak at Lucerne than we are and we often catch up,” Hunt said.
“We can only hope that happens again and put us in a good spot.”