South Africa’s rowing team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics may look drastically smaller than it did at the Rio 2016 Games.
Two years ago South Africa qualified a record five boats for the quadrennial showpiece where all the crews featured in finals.
The team returned home with one medal, with the men’s pair crew of Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling earning silver.
National rowing coach Roger Barrow, however, believes South Africa may qualify only two boats for Tokyo, considering the more stringent rules being introduced in men’s heavyweight divisions.
“The lightweight women’s double sculls boat is a sure thing, and I think we will qualify a men’s pair’s boat,” Barrow said.
“At the moment we’ve got a really young squad. I think most of the rowers will only be at their best for the 2024 Games, and that is why I am aiming to qualify only two crews.”
The International Rowing Federation (FISA) has changed the qualifying criteria for the men’s four category and only the top eight crews in the world will earn places at the Games, while the top 11 crews will be eligible for the men’s pairs.
“Currently in the men’s fours, two crews select themselves as they are three seconds faster than anyone else,” Barrow said.
“The next nine fastest crews are only separated by 2.5 seconds. For this reason, I am more confident of qualifying a men’s pairs boat, but it is not to say we have given up on trying to qualify a boat in the men’s fours as well.”
Barrow, who is based at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria, has put his faith in his women’s lightweight double sculls crew of Kirsten McCann and Nicole van Wyk.
McCann, who won the world title in the single sculls last year, and Van Wyk got into the doubles together for the first time this year.
They have made a promising start as a crew, grabbing the silver medal at the World Rowing Cup in Belgrade in June.
Although they missed out on reaching the A-final at the 2018 World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Barrow remains encouraged by their growth in their first year as a crew.
“To be able to win a medal in your very first attempt at a senior World Cup regatta is impressive,” Barrow said.
“Nicole and Kirsten followed it up with a commendable fourth-place finish during the Lucerne World Cup.
“Worlds was tough for them. They won their first heat, beating some good crews. In the semifinals, they just missed out by a mere two seconds to qualify for the A-final.”
The fight for a seat in the women’s lightweight double sculls boat could also heat up with McCann’s former World Championship bronze medal and Rio Games partner Ursula Grobler contemplating a return.