World champion Kirsten McCann and Nicole van Wyk will get into the lightweight double sculls boat for the first time at a major international regatta this weekend with an eye on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Building towards the Games, South African rowing coach Roger Barrow will be travelling to the Memorial Paolo d’Aloja International Regatta in Piediluco, Italy with a boat-load of crews as he tests different combinations.
McCann, the ‘First Lady’ of South African rowing, and her heir apparent will come together to form what could be a world-beating duo.
“I will try Kirsten and Nicole out, but the Italians also have a very good lightweight double, so we will see if we can beat them or not, but it will be tough,” Barrow told The Games.
McCann became South Africa’s first world rowing champion in a singles boat in Sarasota, United States last year and was the first SA woman to win a medal at the Under-23 World Championships, having made history in 2010 by securing bronze in the lightweight single sculls.
Van Wyk, who will turn 23 on Friday, has the 2016 silver and 2017 U-23 World Championship bronze medals behind her name.
Barrow has a predominantly young group of rowers to work with as he looks to build on the success of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Lightweight double sculls world champion turned heavyweight rower John Smith is one of only three remaining Olympic rowers including McCann and David Hunt – in the squad going to Italy.
“I’ve got seven crews now in Piediluco which is quite a lot, so we will see who does well and take them to the first and third World Cups,” Barrow said.
“It is a big squad and a bit of a young team which is a bit nerve-wrecking.”
Barrow, who is a hard taskmaster, will be without Rio Olympic silver-medal pair Lawrence Brittain and Jake Green.
But he has been blessed with an influx of talent in terms of heavyweight depth, suggesting even the pedigreed duo would find it tough to get into a boat.
“It is a very good team. I am very chuffed with the work we’ve done, and we’ve hardly had any injuries, so everyone has been training really well,” Barrow said.
“I am quite positive. The maturity and the experience are what we lack but these okes are young and strong. It is a nice bunch to work with, so I am pretty confident with it.
“I mean, I don’t think we are going to go there and win much because the Italians are the current leaders in all boats. They won eight golds at world champs, so if we can just get close to the Italians, I’ll be happy.”
South Africa will also field its first men’s eight since the 1992 Olympic Games at an international regatta as Barrow will combine all his heavyweights in what should be a special race.
“The other exciting thing is we are going to row an eight, so the guys will jump in the eight and we will give it a tonk on Sunday because the Italians are the current bronze medallists, so we will see how we fare in that,” Barrow said.
“But that is more just something fun. I don’t know how competitive this [eight boat] will be.”