CN&CO is proud to be associated with the South African rowing team, a.k.a. the RMB National Squad. Two young South Africans – Katherine Williams and Liam Smit – recently represented our country at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, accompanied by their coach, Thato Mokoena. Here, Thato shares the team’s YOG experience…

By Thato Mokoena

The Youth Olympic Games were held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 6 to 18 October 2018. The games proved to be a great opportunity for young South African athletes – including myself as coach – to compete at international level under the banner of the Olympic rings.

The process that led Katherine Williams and Liam Smit to represent SA in the YOG started in 2017, when fellow athletes Megan Hancock and Thabelo Masutha came second and third respectively in the Junior World Championships in Trakai, Lithuania. Their respective placings qualified South Africa for the Youth Olympic Games.

In rowing, for major regattas like the Olympics, it is the boat that qualifies and not the athletes. Despite their success in qualifying for South Africa, Megan and Thabelo did not qualify themselves due to their age. (YOG requires competitors to be 19 years old or younger, and both Megan and Thabelo had passed that age.)

And so Rowing South Africa sent the best athletes in their age group – Katherine and Liam – to compete first in the Junior World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic (in the single scull in August 2018) and then again in the YOG in October 2018.

Katherine, Liam and I travelled to Buenos Aries in early October to prepare for the start of the Youth Olympics rowing programme. This was after extensive training in Cape Town for Katherine and preparation in Pretoria for Liam. Our  thanks go to the rowing clubs at Somerset College and St Alban’s for all the support they provided for their athletes. I would also personally like to thank St Benedict’s rowing club for the support they have shown me.

The rowing competition began on 7 October. This was an exciting day as we participated in a rowing format we were not accustomed to, where we needed to do a 180 degree turn and race back to the start/finish line.

We completed the heads races where Katherine and Liam enjoyed the challenge of the new format of racing and came 14th and 8th, respectively. From this race, they raced two additional heats to qualify for the quarter finals. In the end, they qualified for the C/D final and came 15th and 11th respectively, following a series of knock-out racing.

With this different format of racing, the athletes got an opportunity to excel both personally and professionally in a different environment – an opportunity they loved. Given the pressures they faced competing in the YOG, I will confidently say that the exposure to high-level international competition at the YOG and the interpersonal skills learnt from dealing with the pressures of high-level performance will place them in good stead as they prepare for their exams – we had to leave the games early so they could come back and write their Matric finals.

Which brings me to the culture of South African rowing: no matter what, do not give up. No matter what your circumstances are, what you do or do not have, you still have a responsibility to be the best you can possibly be because you never know when your time to shine might come. It might be in under 23s, it might be racing in seniors or at the Olympic Games. It may even be outside of the sporting or professional fields, and in your personal life instead. The skills (technical or mental) you are taught or learn through failure as a junior and the never-say-die attitude will be a skill that will help you in years to come.

As their coach, I am proud of their performance not only at the YOG but in the preparations leading up to them. They didn’t stop trying to improve their abilities from the start and they have a bright future in rowing. With passionate coaches around who will help develop and build athletes from junior to senior level, I am sure SA rowing is in a good place.

Thank you to Rowsa, SASCOC, RMB and everyone involved for giving us the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you also to our families for the tremendous support they offered to us.

Special thanks to YOG rowing committee for organising a fun relay at the end of competition. This integrated all the athletes and coaches and reminded us why we love the sport so much.

About the rowers:

Liam Smit

Age: 18

School: St Alban’s College

How did you start rowing?

I attended the King Edward’s rowing camp in 2013 in my grade 7 year and immediately found a passion for the sport.

The Youth Games were truly incredible. I got to race back-to-back races over four days, met many awesome people from various countries and sports codes. The village was incredible and everyone was at the top of their individual sports, so there was always entertainment, excitement and activity. The South African team was filled with fantastic people and I’ve made friends from not only the team, but also from other countries.

What is your rowing dream?

I want to continue rowing at a high level and I want to row my entire life. I have Olympic aspirations and my biggest goal in rowing is to be a world champion, be that at a world championship or the Olympic Games.

Who is your rowing role model?

My rowing role model is Olaf Tufte. I admire his love for the sport and his ability to combine it with his happiness in life. He has achieved many highs in his career and is undoubtably one of the best rowers of all time.

Katherine Williams

Age: 18

School: Somerset College

How did you start rowing?

I started rowing because I grew up watching my dad row and wanted to give it a try.

The Youth Games were an amazing experience; I learnt a lot about myself and it helped me to gain experience that I really needed. It helped me to see how much hard work we always need to put in to compete at this level.

What is your rowing dream?

My rowing dream is to row for South Africa at the Olympics and win Gold.

Who is your rowing role model?

My role model is Lee Persse.