JOHANNESBURG - Each stroke came with the same characteristic finesse from Kirsten McCann’s oars but the swan of South African rowing revealed her ruthless side by becoming the country’s first female world champion.
McCann went into the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota last week as the pre-race favourite but still had to battle nerves and a quality field to become South Africa’s first gold medallist in the singles boat.
Winning the lightweight single sculls title, McCann said, served as validation that she was one of the best rowers in the world in her class.
“I always feel like I am playing down my ability and a lot of people say to me ‘Kirst, you need to back yourself more’,” McCann told Independent Newspapers days after her return from Sarasota in the United States.
“A win in the single just says ‘ja, you are good enough, you are one of the best lightweights and you can do this’.
“In a crew, you always wonder and although it is a team effort, I always wonder whether I am good enough and add value to the boat.
“Last week it just kicked in and I decided there was no way anyone will stop me from achieving what I have come here to achieve.”
McCann’s pedigree is hardly in question with her list of accomplishments giving credence to her influence as a pioneer of her sport.
She was the first South African woman to win a medal at the Under-23 World Championships, finishing third in the lightweight single sculls in 2010. Three years later she became World Student champ before breaking new ground by winning bronze in the 2015 world lightweight double sculls with Ursula Grobler.
Before Sarasota, McCann said she would not be 100 percent satisfied with a medal if she felt she did not execute her race according to plan. She got off the water not only with a gold medal around her neck but delighted with the way she claimed her world title.
“I prepared myself that there would be six of us in a row going into the last 250 metres and I backed myself to have the sprint,” McCann said.
A dream come true! It has been an incredible season, and I am eternally grateful to everyone for your support last week! There are so many people (coaches @barrowrow , family, support staff) who have worked so hard behind the scenes to help me achieve one of my goals and one of my dreams! Thank you for all the love and support. #iloverowing #worldrowingchampionships #ilovemyjob #gold #onegoal #rowingrsa @rowsa_ @teamsouthafrica #rmb @rmb #thinkingpullingtogether #motivationtokeepgoing #lightweightrowing #happygirl #proudlysouthafrican
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“I am very happy with how I executed it, I am just over the moon with the win, it is one of my dreams and goals come true
“It is not the dream or the goal because there are many others and on my pathway to Tokyo it is a tick.”
McCann praised her long-time mentor Roger Barrow's calming influence for her success: “It is easy when your race plan works, Roger and I fine-tuned it so wellI just prayed for intelligence and maturity to stick with my race plan.”