SA rowers’ Olympic dream on the line in Switzerland

By Karien Jonckheere

Days, months and years of training come down to one final push to reach the Paris Olympic Games for the SA rowing duo of Paige Badenhorst and Kat Williams.

The pair head to Switzerland next week with one final chance to book their ticket to Paris later this year.

A fourth-place finish at the Memorial Paolo D’Aloja regatta in Piediluco, Italy at the end of March would have gone a long way to boosting confidence levels for the Pretoria-based team – as has a good stint of training in recent weeks.

“The training for Paige and I has been going really well,” explained Williams. “The boat has been moving really well and we keep making really good strides to improve our boat speed. We’re in a very good place and are just excited at the opportunity to race.”

The pressure will be on at the 2024 World Rowing Final Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne where only a top-two place will be good enough to make it to the Olympics, with 11 boats already having secured their spots at last year’s World Championships.

“⁠We are obviously very confident in our ability, I think we know what it takes now and we have built a lot of confidence since the World Championships last year. The belief in ourselves is so important, especially going into an event like this,” said Williams.

“⁠It would mean a great deal to us as the Olympics has been a dream for both of us since we started rowing. Going to the Olympics would be a dream come true and would be an opportunity to show the world what we can do.”

The pair are no strangers to success on the global stage with Williams having claimed a bronze medal at the 2021 Under 23 World Championships and Badenhorst part of the 2022 Cambridge crew that won the famed Boat Race in the UK. They’ve only been rowing together in the women’s scull since January last year, but the partnership was a good one from the start.

“We always say that we are very opposite in terms of being an extrovert and an introvert, but that has allowed us to complement each other very well,” explained Williams. “From the first time we rowed together, there was a chemistry, as our coach Tiago Loureiro pointed out to us, so we work together really well and have an undeniable trust and understanding of each other that just helps us to make the boat go fast.”

The belief is certainly there that it will be fast enough for one of those top-two spots once they get to Switzerland.

Meanwhile, also gunning for qualification at the 19-21 May even in Lucerne are the men’s lightweight four of Luc Daffarn, Jake Green, James Mitchell and Henry Torr.

Which SA athletes are on track for Olympic selection?

By Karien Jonckheere

With the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympic Games now five months away, 11 South African athletes have already achieved qualification standards for the global showpiece.

The most recent name to be added to that list was Cian Oldknow who ran the second-fastest marathon time by a South African woman of 2 hours 25 minutes and 08 seconds in Seville last weekend.

“I’m still feeling so excited and over the moon about running the qualifying time,” said the 27-year-old. “It was what we had set out to do in Seville. So to have actually done it is both a relief and an amazing feeling of gratitude and joy.”

Also among the qualifiers in the marathon are SA record holder Gerda Steyn who ran a 2:24:03 in December last year and Irvette van Zyl who ran 2:26:11 in Valencia in December 2022, while among the men, only Stephen Makoka has achieved the mark, running 2:06:42 in Osaka last February.

The timeline for achieving qualifying marks in track and field, apart from the 10,000m and combined events, began on 1 July 2023, with the final deadline for qualification coming up on 30 June 2024, while on the road, marathon runners had between 6 November 2022 and 5 May 2024 to qualify.

Among the first to achieve their qualification mark on the track was two-time Olympic 100m finalist Akani Simbine whose time of 9.97 seconds run on 16 July last year in Poland all but booked his ticket to Paris.

“I qualified for Olympics last year already and having that weight off my shoulders makes it easier for us to plan our season gearing up to the Olympics,” he explained. “I don’t need to stress about racing and getting my Q for the Games.”

Other track athletes who have ‘the Q’ are Luxolo Adams in the 200m, world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk and Zakithi Nene (400m), Tshepo Tshite (1500m0, Adriaan Wildschutt (5000m) and Marioné Fourie (100m hurdles).

Qualification for Paris is not only attained by achieving entry standards, however – with an additional 50 per cent of qualifiers being decided via world rankings. Taking that into account, 10 more athletes (along with the men’s 4x100m relay team) could be added to the list eligible for selection if they maintain their current rankings by the cutoff date of 7 July for track and field and 12 May for the marathon.

With several months still to achieve both entry standards and work their way up the world rankings, even more could be added, with a limit of three per country per event.

Speaking about the composition of the team, Simbine reckoned: “Team SA is going through a transition. There are younger athletes that are coming into the sport and I’m hoping they take the opportunity with both hands and come into the space with maturity and hunger to commit and do great things.”

“I’m looking forward to the guys qualifying and believing that they can compete against the world.”