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iTOO at the Tokyo Olympic Games – Support Rowing SA

What does it take to be an EXPERT? – The same dedication as it takes to win an Olympic medal.

iTOO has had a direct involvement with SA Rowing since the inception. Our logo appears as a cornerstone sponsor of SA Rowing. This is not a cash sponsorship, but it is driven by passion and involvement.

Thanks to the efforts of Denise Wait, the administration of all matters related to the SA Rowing teams from under 19, under 23 and open (Olympic Squad) have run like clockwork. This covers raising of sponsorship, payments, training camps, tours… A big thank you to Denise!

Paolo has been responsible for selection and coaching of all our national teams for more than a decade. He relinquished this responsibility in September 2020 maintaining a watching brief over the Tokyo Olympic rowing effort. Like all things Paolo does, he has been instrumental in providing leadership and guidance to SA rowing and, as we know, he is usually a key ingredient in winning teams.

The mainstay of all our national teams is Roger Barrow, Head Coach for SA Rowing and the Olympic Rowing Team, with a full-time and temporary staff complement exceeding 10 people coaches, physiotherapists, medical doctors, physiologists and psychologists.

SA Rowing has punched way above its weight by international standards. This has been made possible with the financial support of Rand Merchant Bank, The Millennium Trust, SASCOC (our National Olympic Committee) and individual benefactors.

The very first Olympic Medal in the history of SA Rowing came in 2004 in Athens, where Hollard ‘‘employees’’, Ramon di Clemente and Donovan Cech achieved a Bronze Medal in the Coxless Pair boat (2 rowers). Since then, SA Rowing has produced a Gold Medal in London in 2012 and a Silver in Rio in 2016. Roger Barrow was also voted International Coach of the year in 2016, the youngest recipient ever.

And so to Tokyo, a dream and goal of all top athletes and a most challenging journey for all SA Rowing athletes and National Squad staff. Having to overcome the challenges of covid-19, lockdowns, TFH (Train From Home on Zoom!), drought (we need water to row on), a scarcity of competitions (racing sharpens the mind) and injuries. Not to mention the added factor of a one year delay – a major disruption for the athletes.

Participating in the Olympic Games is a major achievement and honour in itself, but being able to do so and compete for medals takes this a step higher.

South Africa has two boats qualified for Tokyo:

  • Men’s Coxless Pair (2 rowers): Jake Green and Luc Daffarn
  • Men’s Coxless Four (4 rowers): Sandro Torrente, John Smith, Kyle Schoonbee and Lawrence Brittain
  • Regrettably our Women’s Double with World Champion Kirsten McCann did not qualify

(We need not despair for the ladies – Kat Williams has just medaled at the Under 23 World Championships, a great prospect for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024)

The opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games normally comes about every four years. Due to covid-19 this was extended by a year although the event is still called the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Athletes that compete for medals in Rowing have usually already experienced one, perhaps two Olympic Games and so the level of dedication extends to sometimes more than 12 years – post-school, dedicated full-time to the sport. With only a stipend to cover living expenses, training three times per day in Pretoria (TUKS High Performance Centre) and nearby Roodeplaat Dam.

Training Camps are three weeks at a time, three to four times per year in the Lesotho Highlands on Khatse Dam. Snow, sunshine, drought and heavy rainfall are all the conditions faced in training on this beautiful uninhabited stretch of water – where rowers can row for 30kms in one direction at an altitude of 2.250metres. Great for the lungs!

The Olympic races are run over a standard distance of 2.000metres (2kms). Races last between 5 minutes 30 seconds and 7 minutes, a mix of aerobic and anaerobic threshold. Racing takes place on flat water, with six boats competing in six designated lanes. World Record times are not important as weather conditions change for every race with wind being the major variable.

The selection process
The first step in the selection process is a test on the Concept 2 Rowing machine (ergometer), as you find in most gyms today. This tests a combination of strength and lung capacity, but this is only the beginning. Athletes are then placed in boats and measured against each other for their ability to ‘‘move boat’’.

Consider that these boats are extremely narrow – balance is key, timing too, feeling the rhythm and movement of the boat aa well, and then you have to gel with your team-mates, whom you see everyday for years of training. At this level, strength of mind becomes much more important than physicality.

SA Rowing boats are produced in Italy by Filippi of Livorno. They cost around R500 00 each, manufactured in carbon/kevlar materials for light weight, rigidity and strength. They are of bespoke design to fit the specifications of the crew members like a glove and supplied brand new for the Olympic Games.

A team wins and loses together
Like all teams, the entire rowing team and staff win and lose together as a team. They lose more than they win, and this teaches the team to be humble, to analyze, learn, work harder and smarter and come back stronger for the ultimate goal – an Olympic Medal.

It may not appear so from the outside, but planning ahead, timing the intensity of training sessions (over two-week cycles), coming into form and race strategy are all major factors in the outcome of a race. The relationship between team mates is critical. As they say, ‘‘you have to be prepared to die for each other’’ to make an Olympic final.

Preparation is paramount
For the past two weeks the squad, thanks to Roger’s meticulous and almost obsessive preparation, has been acclimatizing at a training camp in Japan, five hour’s fight from Tokyo. Prior to that they were on training camp in Lesotho, for many weeks in an anti-covid ‘‘bubble’’. Their trip from Joburg to their camp in Japan involved 30 hours of travel time.

Since this last Sunday they have moved to the Olympic Village in Tokyo and onto the waters of the Olympic Rowing course – the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay. Fortunately they felt immediately at home as the team had invested in a reconnaissance trip to Tokyo in 2019, thinking at the time we were just a year away from the Games.

Meet SA’s Tokyo Olympic rowing squad

Jake is a Matriculant from St Andrews College in Grahamstown, he is the stroke of the boat, he sets the rhythm, having already achieved an Olympic 4th place in Rio. He has a love for the English language, the core of his University studies, on long term sabbatical from university.

Luc is the youngest member of the squad, from Rondebosch High in Cape Town, a first time Olympian. Studying to become a teacher, majoring in History, on long term sabbatical. His role is to back Jake with rhythm, keeping focused on the race plan and the opposition as the race unfolds.

Sandro, the Stroke of the Four, is from Gauteng, a graduate from St Benedict’s College in Bedfordview Johannesburg, chasing the dream of a medal like his hero Ramon. A Politics, Philosophy and Economics university student, on sabbatical.

Kyle matriculated at Hilton College in KZN, a computer boff studying Computer Science, also on long term sabbatical. He sits in the middle of the boat, we call it the ‘’engine room’’.
Both are first-time Olympians.

John and Lawrence tell a special story:
John was in the 2012 Gold medal boat at the London Olympic Games, at the time a lightweight category athlete, sub 73kgs despite his tall frame. He decided to ‘’grow’’ into a heavyweight, none have managed to achieve this with the same level of success. Weight for weight, probably one of the world’s finest rowers.

Lawrence and John are longstanding partners and former Under 23 World Champions. Lawrence’s greatest achievement however is beating cancer after failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and coming back to win Silver four years later in Rio.

And now Tokyo
There is a small piece of iTOO, – in the boat with these athletes as they do their utmost to win for our country. It couldn’t come at a better time, reminding us of what we are capable of achieving if we simply, PULL TOGETHER.

If you want to watch South Africa’s Rowers in the Tokyo Olympic Games – here are the details.

TV DETAILS and RACE SCHEDULE:

MNET SuperSport has a range of channels 202 to 209 inclusive, covering the Olympics in full.
Channel 208 will show the Rowing.
Channel 209 is the Highlights channel.

Schedule (Japan is 7 hours behind SA):

Saturday 24th July:

  • Coxless pair @ 3.20h
  • Coxless four @ 5.10h

Wednesday 27th July:

  • Coxless Pair Semi Finals @ 3.30h

Thursday 28th July:

  • Coxless four Final @ 3.10h

Friday 29th July:

  • Coxless pair Final @ 2.18h

We need our boats to reach the final, not an easy task as only the top 6 race in the Final.

Fingers crossed, Good luck Team SA, iTOO is behind you all the way

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