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Smith, Brittain strike gold

By Mark Etheridge

John Smith and Lawrence Brittain can take a bow… the two under-23 rowers have won South Africa’s first ever gold medal at a world championship.

Our national team has just returned from the World Under-23 Championships in Brest, Belarus and the two won gold in the men’s pairs event.

The SA team was made up of five rowers and three officials.

The story of how they struck gold started with them winning their heat in the fastest time of the three heats which took them through to the semi-finals. After a day’s break the duo again set the pace with the fastest of the two semis taking them into the A final.

Said national coach Roger Barrow: “South Africa stuck with their same race plan and by the 1000-metre mark had a one length lead on the rest of the field. Canada came back at them with 250m to go but SA still had another gear to give and crossed the line in first place with Canada, Romania, Germany, France and Serbia behind them.”

Brittain, 20, went to Parktown Boys and came seventh at the Under-23 World Championships in 2009. Smith is a product of St Albans College and was fourth in the same event at last year’s championships.

Also medalling at the championships was Kirsten McCann who nabbed bronze in the women’s lightweight scull.

After struggling to find her pace in her heat, she ended sixth but came out firing the next day in the repecharge, winning it to make the semi-final.

She needed a top three finish in the semi-final to make the A-Final which she did, placing second.

Says Barrow: “In the A-Final nothing changed in Kirsten’s approach, going out hard from the beginning and sitting in the silver position all the way down the course coming into the final sprint for the line with Japan just pipping Kirsten into third. Belarus won and Canada were fourth.”

A product of St Andrews in Bedfordview, Gauteng, McCann,21, was at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, placing 13th in the lightweight women’s double. As a junior she came sixth at junior world champs (double scull) then fourth the following year in the women’s single.

Our other contestants in Brest were the women’s pairs of Claire Bode and Kate Christowitz and they went on to place fourth in the A-Final.

“This was a big step up for the girls as in 2009 Claire and Kate also teamed up in the pair and came fifth at the Junior world championships. ┬áThis is Kate and Claire’s first year at Under-23 and if this result is anything to go by, great things are to come from these two.”

Summing up the championships, Barrow said: This is certainly one of the most successful tours that South Africa has ever had, with three entries into the event we end up with a fourth, bronze medal and gold medal. Congratulations must go to the support team (Andrew Grant, Ben Tipney and Nicola McCleod) on how they prepared the crews for the event.

“Rowing is very small in South Africa and this shows that we are able to win medals at the very highest level. ┬áSome of these athletes will have their sights set on 2012 in London and beyond. There is no reason with this sort of performance that they can’t aim for the top and I’m very pleased to see that the high performance programme is working.”