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Fri Apr 25 02:01:43 SAST 2014

SA chase down pack for rowing gold

David Isaacson | 03 August, 2012 06:170 Comments
South Africa's quartet in the men's lightweight four finals at Eton Dorney, London, yesterday. They snatched gold from Britain and Denmark by the narrowest of margins
Image by: MARK BLINCH / GALLO IMAGES

SOUTH Africa's rowers chanted "gold, gold" as they stormed from behind to win the men's lightweight fours race at the Olympics yesterday.

The foursome of Sizwe Ndlovu, John Smith, Matt Brittain and James Thompson defied the vocal local crowd at Eton Dorney to clinch the country's third gold medal of London 2012.

Cameron van der Burgh on day two, Chad le Clos on day four and now the rowers on day six.

Nobody had given the South Africans a chance in this 2000m dash, and even with 500m remaining, they seemed out of it in fourth spot, trailing behind Denmark, Australia and Britain.

But that's when the South African crew threw extra wood on the braai, inspired by the giant-slaying performance of Le Clos, who pipped American Michael Phelps at the death.

"We watched Chad racing and he was a little bit behind and he just came back and we said to ourselves, 'That's how we're going to do this thing'," said Matt Brittain. "We had to put ourselves in the mix in the first half.

"We just started shouting 'gold' in the last 250m. Like we said, the whole season now, whenever one of us says, 'We've only got one goal', the others have to shout 'gold'."

The South Africans chased down the front-runners to snatch victory by a quarter of a second, crossing the line in 6min 2.84sec.

Britain took silver in 6:03.09 and Denmark bronze in 06:03.16.

Thompson said each of the four, who have spent no more than eight days apart this year, played his part.

Stroke Ndlovu joined the crew only this year.

"He's got incredible rhythm. He's the change from last year to this year. He's got incredible length. He's as tough as nails," said Thompson.

Ndlovu, South Africa's second black Olympic champion after Joshia Thugwane won the 1996 marathon, had promised to throw a braai for a local he has befriended here.

"If we can find a place, we'll have a braai," Ndlovu said.

This is South Africa's second Olympic rowing medal, after the bronze in the men's pairs in Athens in 2004.

The rowers, who have to weigh an average of 70kg each two hours before a race, were planning to tuck in at the McDonald's stand in the Olympic village for supper last night. "We sometimes have a competition to see who can put on the most weight by the end of the night," said Thompson. " We've had 8kg winning it."

While this performance may have surprised many fans, the rowers themselves believed this was going to be the case.

"We were in a good place the whole year so it wasn't much of a surprise this year."

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