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Crunch time for SA rowers

National coach Roger Barrow hopes three years of meticulous planning and hard work will come to fruition as South Africa aims to qualify five Olympic-class boats at the World Rowing Championships in France from August 30 to September 6.

The five crews consist of men’s and women’s lightweight double sculls, a men’s and women’s pair and a men’s heavyweight fours that need to finish in the top-11 in their respective events for a place at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“We had a good training camp in Tzaneen, there aren’t many niggles or injuries so all went pretty well,” Barrow told Sport24 before their departure to France.

“Hopefully everyone is a little bit faster but I guess we’ll find out on Sunday.”

South African rowing has gone from strength to strength since the men’s lightweight coxless fours won gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The rowing team experienced unprecedented success when the lightweight men’s double sculls crew of Olympic gold medallist John Smith and James Thompson won South Africa’s maiden world title in the Netherlands.

Adding to this achievement, Shaun Keeling and Vincent Breet claimed bronze in the men’s pair while two more Olympic-class boats advanced to the finals.

The women’s lightweight doubles sculls crew of Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler  just missed out on a podium spot with a fourth-place finish, with women’s pair of Lee-Ann Persse and Naydene Smith finishing sixth in their final.

While the higher aim is to qualify all five boats, the team will be looking to improve on last year’s superb results.

Thompson and Smith will spearhead the charge as they look to defend their title, while the women’s lightweight double sculls crew of Ursula Grobler and Kirsten McCann have emerged as strong medal contenders.

The women’s lightweight double duo won silver at the final leg of the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland in July.

New Zealand’s Sophie MacKenzie and Julia Edward outgunned them at the finish with the United States crew of Devery Karz and Michelle Sechser taking bronze.

Barrow said Grobler and McCann were developing into a formidable combination and they were looking to make up for missing out on a medal at the 2014 Championships.

“The girls especially have caught up with the men’s double, I wouldn’t want to race against those two,” Barrow said.

“The girls were disappointed last year and they didn’t forget that, they will definitely put something big on the table this time around.”

Reigning lightweight men’s doubles world champions Smith and Thompson had to be content with a silver medal in Lucerne where the French duo of Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou pipped them for first place.

Barrow believed Smith and Thompson have made serious strides in the double sculls but believed they faced a real challenge from the French crew.

“They’ve progressed hugely from last year, we now feel we know what we are doing, last year we certainly didn’t,” he said.

“It was a steep learning curve for me and the two guys on the boat but they’ve progressed well where we are more comfortable with what we are doing.”

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