Sizwe Ndlovu flinches at the mention of the word ‘retirement’, and though the inevitable end of his superb career looms large, he still dreams of a final appearance at the Olympic Games.
Six years after the Oarsome Foursome’s historic gold medal race at the London 2012 Olympic Games, two members of South Africa’s famous men’s lightweight four crew have since retired from the sport.
A chronic back injury forced Matt Brittain to call it quits in 2013, while James Thompson hung up his oars after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Every member of the quartet has left an indelible mark on the sport, with Ndlovu making history in 2012 when he became the first black African male rower to win an Olympic gold medal.
There is something about South African elite rowers — perhaps it is the water at their base at Roodeplaat Dam — that makes them immune to any form of surrender.
Lawrence Brittain’s gritty battle and conquest over cancer to earn the men’s pair silver medal at the Rio Games with Shaun Keeling was testament to the squad’s aversion to defeat.
In the two years since he had labrum repair surgery, Ndlovu has barely been in a boat, but that does little to allow thoughts of retirement to enter his mind.
“I don’t like the word ‘retired’. I’ve taken a break and haven’t made a decision yet,” Ndlovu says.
“It’s been good since 2016 when I had an operation, and I took a year off before I started training again.
“I only started last year and it is still not fine, so I decided to take a break, and whether I make it back or not, I will make a decision later.”
While Ndlovu’s comeback has been deferred due to a hip niggle, he has kept himself busy by ploughing his knowledge back into the sport and is currently head coach of the University of Johannesburg’s rowing programme.
He hopes to get back into the national squad, however, and serve as a form of motivation to promising lightweight rowers Vaughn Botes and Nicholas Oberholzer, who finished fourth and fifth respectively at the 2016 and 2017 World Under-23 Rowing Championships.
“We obviously have Vaughn and Nicholas in the lightweight double, and they would be hard to beat (for a seat). They are doing quite well,” Ndlovu says.
“They raced in A-finals the last two years, so to come back and just push those guys and be part of the team would be nice for me.”
And with regards to his hopes of another shot at the Olympics?
“I still have dreams of going to Tokyo 2020 but it all depends on this hip,” Ndlovu says.
“If it still gives issues, I’d rather save it than go for another operation.”