5 questions with Rock the Boat founders, James Thompson and Matthew Brittain

With only a month to go until we kick off Rock the Boat 2016, we thought we should ask two of our South African Olympic Champions a few questions. Read on…. and book your spot for the regatta of the year.

James Thompson and Matthew Brittain

The moment the Olympic dream came true

1. What makes Rock the Boat such a one-of-a-kind rowing event?

It’s unique simply because it brings world-class racing to every athlete. We rank boats according to speed, not according to age, gender or boat class as is traditional which means you get an incredibly vibey event where a school girl eight can line-up against a smaller boat containing senior international standard athletes.

Think about how much a young crew can learn by competing stroke for stroke down the course against more experienced athletes and how much better the race is for those outliers that have been consistently winning or losing throughout the season and now suddenly find themselves having to dig deep in a real race.

2. What are you guys up to now?

James: I am lucky enough to be chasing the Olympic dream full-time at the moment. After four years in the lighty four we have embraced a new challenge and will be hunting for gold in the lightweight double.

Matt: I’m working for Sanlam in London whilst dreaming of sunnier shores in SA!

3. James, how is prep for Rio 2016 going?

The first two years in the double have been a very different challenge to the previous Olympic cycle in the lightweight four. John and myself work well together and have been very consistent and ruthless in our training. While fourth at the World Champs was not what we had hoped for, we have got Olympic qualification out of the way and we’re now completely focused on putting a good Olympic season together.

4. What’s the most valuable advice anyone has ever given you when it comes to rowing?

James: At first learn how to train, learn when to push hard and when to back off the pressure and think more. If you learn how to train really well, improved performances and results will come with time.

Matt: Focus on being as fast as you can be and the rest will be fine

5. Tell us about the day you guys won Gold…

James: It’s hard to explain the emotions and feelings that come back thinking about that day. I think we had done a fantastic job of staying in the zone and focusing on the process in the whole build-up to the regatta, generally down-playing the enormity of everything going on around us.

There were many incredible moments in the whole Olympic experience, such as the podium or arriving back at OR Tambo. But for me the focus and execution in the moments that mattered the most is what I look back on with pride.

I remember as we came into the final 300m, I was still really strong and had really good power but the crowd was crazy loud. I remember thinking with 200m to go, 20 big strokes could win this. No matter if it’s at a small local race or on the biggest stage in the world, that is always an incredible feeling.

Matt: Gee, that was a great day. It started with a very poor night’s sleep for all of us, a nervous start and our worst warm-up of the regatta but we got our nerves under control and were able to execute an amazing race. I remember sitting on the start line trying to play down the event in my mind and focus rather on just making the first five strokes the most explosive strokes humanly possible. We went through the halfway mark in the pack and knew that we had a great chance of a medal because our sprint was amazing.

We started cranking it up and were already moving back on the Danish leaders when we really opened the taps for the final sprint. I remember screaming the call to give everything for the line (“GOLD!”) and then just doing my best to keep up with Sizwe who was going crazy in the stroke seat. Although there was no greater moment than the realisation as we crossed the finish line that we had managed to come through in the final few strokes to clinch gold, there were hundreds of other amazing ones such as singing the anthem in front of our families and the SA flag as well sharing the story with as many people as would hear it.

Keen to be part of all the Rock the Boat action? Come and join us on 6th February 2016.