PORT Elizabeth sports fans got a chance to mingle with two of the four members of the Olympic gold medal-winning South African rowing team at a fundraising breakfast for the Grey High School Rowing Club yesterday.
James Thompson and Sizwe Ndlovu signed autographs and had their pictures taken with their admirers. An autographed antique paddle and an autographed picture of the four sold for R10000 on an auction.
Reliving their victory on a big screen at the Old Grey Club, the two rowers provided a blow-by-blow analysis of their race.
Thompson said they had been nervous when they started the race. "As soon as the buzzer went off, it was all real. We started the race slowly and at about 1000m the lungs were burning. We knew the oppositions' strategies because we had raced against them a couple of times before, so we were happy when Denmark took the early lead. We expected them to," he said.
Ndlovu agreed. "The remaining 500m is about top speed, not efficiency speed. I was the first one to look to the left when we crossed the line. I think I must have taken about five seconds to look.
"Our boat was a little thinner than theirs – a very fast boat. Our motivation was the gold medal, that is what had kept us going since we started training together in 2010," Ndlovu said.
As the South African rowing team crossed the line on screen, all in attendance cheered.
Grey High School Rowing Club captain Charles Stevens, 17, said he hoped to one day follow in their footsteps.
"It is awesome – a dream come true. It is very nice to meet your heroes. My dream is to race at the Olympics," he said.
Thompson had some advice for aspiring Olympians.
"There is lots of talent out there, but very few put their mind to it. They must work really hard and work towards their goals and dreams."
The rowers said they did not have a secret diet – except for lots of Coca-Cola for energy. They trained for six hours a day, seven days a week.
They hoped to represent South Africa again at the 2016 Olympic Games, they said.
Thompson and Ndlovu also delivered a motivational talk to Bay businesspeople at Elizabeth Place in Newton Park. Etana Insurance head Godfrey Williams organised the talk.
"We all know how important mutual trust is in business and to be able to translate the experience of Olympic champions into business reality is inspiring and motivational. That's why we organised for them to come and speak to this group of PE leaders," Williams said.