Rio Olympics silver medallist, Lawrence Brittain (TuksRowing), joined a small elite group of rowers when he won the Silver Sculls as well as the Grand Challenge (senior coxless fours) at the Buffalo Regatta which took place in East London at the weekend.
A victory at the Buffalo Regatta is something that every rower serious about the sport wants to tick off their bucket list. That’s because it’s the oldest regatta in South Africa. The first regatta took place in 1879. Rowers consider it to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of South African rowing.
The unpredictable conditions on race day make it a unique challenge every time. It can be rough at times because of the current and there’s also a bit of tide in the river. Sometimes there are waves which can make the water very choppy. It’s usually windy, but tricky, because rowers never know which direction the wind will be blowing from next.
John Smith, an Olympic gold medallist in London 2012, who also achieved the unique double at the Buffalo Regatta, compared it to playing basketball and then netball immediately afterwards.
‘Even though the two sports are similar, there are some significant differences. In the sculls you use two oars and in the fours only one.’
Brittain had good reason to describe his Buffalo feat as a fantastic experience. He was certainly not only referring to the fact that he won. What made his unique feat special is that he and his brothers, Matt, James and Charles, got to compete together in the fours at the Buffalo for the first time – something they’ve been dreaming about for years.
The chance of them doing so again in the foreseeable future is slim.
‘The only reason why we got to do so, is because it’s the year after the Olympic Games and Roger Barrow (national rowing coach) tends to be slightly more lenient,’ explains Brittain.
The Brittain brothers certainly did not have it easy during the race. They got off to a good start, but their rivals (John Smith, Jake Green, David Hunt and Leo Davis) were never going to give up without fight. They slowly but surely drew level with the Brittain brothers, then continued to slowly but surely edge in front.
At the halfway mark the brothers Brittain were in second place. However the race experience of Lawrence and Matt (a former gold medallist at the Olympic Games) started to kick in.
Matt credits his brother, Lawrence, for getting them in position to contest for the victory.
‘I was sitting behind Lawrence and it was a privilege to see how he picked the pace over the second half of the race and motivating us to keep up with him.’
It was the other crew who was the first to launch their final assault to the line. But the ‘brothers’ quickly reacted and managed to get their boat into the lead in the final few metres. They won the 2 000m race in 6min 03min 35sec, beating their rivals by 1.01 seconds.
In the morning Lawrence had won the single sculls race with relative ease, rowing a time of 8:25:02 in the final. Kyle Schoonbee (also TuksSport Rowing) finished second in 8:30:60 and Bradley Bretts (Rhodes) was third in 8:33:77.
Picture of the Brittain brothers in action courtesy of Nicola Mundell