KATLEGO PHEEHA & ZENNA MULLER
Tuks’s High Performance Centre (hpc) has been praised for the part it played in the three gold medals South Africa won at the 2012 London Olympic Games. One of those came fromthe Mens’ Lightweight Four rowing team. Perdeby spoke to gold medalists Sizwe Lawrence Ndlovu, James Thompson, Matthew Brittain and John Smith about their role in South Africa’s most successful Olympic campaign to date.
What does it mean to you to have contributed a gold medal to the most successful South African Olympic team in the country’s history?
Thompson: I think we just played our little part in the big structure. I think SASCOC did a really good job and we just did our little thing within it.
South Africa was not one of the favourites to take gold. Did you feel like underdogs?
Ndlovu: I would say yes. The “big” dogs we knew were the Danish and the British, but we were more worried about the Chinese team which we met in the semi-final. We had come second to them earlier during the World Cup. So when we beat them in the semis, we knew the British, Australians and the Danish would be the ones [to beat]. And I guess they weren’t expecting that.
Going into the games were you always targeting gold?
Brittain: Yes definitely. We had one goal and that was gold. We never said “No we have Rio” or made plans beyond this. It was only London. You may only get one chance at going for it and we were going to make the most of it and aim as high as we can.
How did you feel when you realised that you had won Olympic gold?
Smith: Just, pure exhilaration. I remember I was just screaming my voice hoarse. We were just bashing stuff in.
Ndlovus: It’s the best feeling ever, there are no words to describe it. Seeing the flag, and having these guys lead our national anthem. Everyone was there; the families and the girlfriends were all there to celebrate. It was a great feeling.
Your success; along with that of Cameron van der Burgh and Chad Le Clos, caused a big stir back home. Were you aware of how much your achievement meant to the country?
Thompson: I don’t think I actually got the size of it until we got home. In one of thefunctions while we were there we were told “You life will never be the same again”, I remember thinking at the time it was a bit of a funny comment. In hindsight I know exactly what he was talking about [Laughs].
Do you believe that what you’ve achieve will help improve rowing in South Africa?
Ndlovu: I think it has, and it will. Because obviously now a lot more people will want to do rowing. I was at my old school during the weekend, and had a lot of kids coming to me say that they now want to do rowing.
Besides the medal, what was your best experience at the Olympics?
Smith: [Jokes] Inside the Olympic village, there was a MacDonald’s. We were on diet for the racing, but after that we could eat what we wanted. And sitting down, with four burgers, was something really special.
As athletes at the Olympics, how do you block out all the media hype and the distractions to focus on nothing but rowing?
Thompson: We sat down and discussed everything that would be different in London compared to a normal regatta. One of the guys within our coaching team Justin Butler said to us that the Olympics regatta is just a normal regatta with a circus going on around it. We took that to heart and thought about, and we were also lucky enough to fly below the South African media’s radar so we didn’t have too much distraction coming from that.
Where do you guys plan on going from here? Are you aiming to go to Rio 2016?
Brittain: I think at the back of everyone’s mind is Rio. But at the end of the day we don’t choose who the four people are that get to sit in the boat. As an individual you have to decide if you want to be there, just train harder and impress the coach. Just like in a soccer team, they could easily take out this guy or that guy and replace them with someone else.
What advice would you give to young athletes aiming to emulate you by winning an Olympic medal for South Africa?
Brittain: A lot of people want the medal before they put in the work. They want the guarantee that if I work this hard, I will get the medal. My advice is that you just have to take the risk that you’ll fail and commit everything you have.
Thompson: A lot of guys have a lot reasons why they can’t do it, and I think that’s something the four of us don’t have. We see South Africa as the best place we could possibly have to train, with the best facilities and the best boats we could want. We just choose to look at things in a way that’s going to make us go faste., We don’t sit there with a long list of reasons. You could be negative, but at the end of the day everyone has opportunities open to them.
Photo: www.risksa.com Video: Kabelo Mabokela