Olympics / 27 July 2016, 4:12pm / Ockert De Villiers
Johannesburg - South Africa’s heavyweight rowing pair of Shaun Keeling and Lawrence Britttain will not allow a fraction to stand in their way of a podium finish at the Rio Olympic Games next month.
They're racing in one of the most competitive race classes dominated by Olympic champion Kiwi pair Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, who boast one of the most impressive winning streaks in sport, going unbeaten since they teamed up at the end of 2008.
In their final race before the Rio Games, Keeling and Brittain missed out on a medal at the Lucerne World Cup in April by the narrowest of margins. Bond and Murray claimed a comfortable victory but only 0.18sec separated the second, third and fourth places.
The British and Dutch crews posted the exact same times of 6:51.050 with the latter taking the silver on photo finish.
Keeling and Brittain, who won bronze at the previous regatta, crossed in 6:51.230, cruelly missing out on a medal.
“We motivate each other after every session, especially after we placed fourth by point-two of a second. Every session we have, we say we are not losing by point-two, we are not losing by point-two’,” Keeling said.
“We have to make it happen; it doesn’t just fall into place. The training is part of it but you have to physically do it.
“We missed a medal by point-two and that hurt a lot; we are very bitter and don’t want that to happen in Rio.”
Keeling will go to his second Olympics eight years after he made his debut in Beijing 2008 as a replacement for the injured Don Cech.
Four years earlier Cech and Ramon di Clemente made history by winning the country’s first Olympic rowing medal, a bronze in the men’s pair in Athens 2004.
Forming a crew, Keeling and Di Clemente finished in a creditable fifth place in the final in Beijing.
Keeling’s pursuit of an Olympic medal would consume him over the eight years as he made sacrifices only to cruelly miss qualification for London 2012. “That also hurt and I really do want this and that is why I am back and I am going to make it happen, that is the goal,” Keeling said.
“The Olympics is everything for me and this is my goal. I could have stopped after Beijing or London, but it is not a one-year thing. it's a four-year cycle. I took a couple of months off after London but you realise you are not done, and you are going to carry on no matter what.”
Keeling struggled to express his ire for the world’s top golfers, who seem to view the Olympics more of a nuisance than an honour by snubbing the global showpiece.
For Keeling it is incomprehensible that any athlete would not jump at the opportunity to participate at the Games.
The Olympics is the absolute pinnacle for the rowers who expend hours of hard work for little or no financial incentive. “I don’t want to say what the consequences are but you put yourself in financial hurt to do what you want to do because this is your goal,” Keeling said.
“At the end of the day you can only do it once or twice and you can’t do it later on so you put your career on hold.
“This is what I want in life and I am very happy doing what I am doing.”
Keeling will share the boat with Brittain, who won his battle with cancer to earn his seat in the boat. The duo missed out in 2012, and had to fight for places in the boat against a crop of talented young Turks over the last four years.