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A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Friday, 12 August 2016


I previously wrote about a young #Olympic rower named Jonty Smith (@jonty11smith). Today at 16h27 South African time he and his crew race in the final of the Mens Heavyweight Coxless Fours. Here is my message to them:

Dear Jonty, David, Vince and Jake, (and, indeed, all of Rowing Team SA),

I couldn’t be more excited for you or proud of what you have managed up until this point. Today is your day of reckoning. The heats are over, the repecharge is won and you only get one shot – ever – at winning a medal in THIS race.

Rugby players are fond of saying that nothing that has gone before a knock-out match matters any longer. Whilst I doubt that that is so for rugby players, I want to suggest that everything that has gone before matters. Every race you have won or lost, every session on the ergo, every stroke you have ever pulled is your experience matrix. It is a complicated database on which you will draw for every stroke of today’s final. You will know exactly what has worked before, and what has not worked. You will know exactly how it feels when your timing is out, or when your timing is impeccable and the boat is running. You will know how to react when someone hits a wave. Importantly, you will know what you have done, how your performance curve has climbed and climbed since Henley last year and what you are capable of achieving. You might also know the depths of your own reserves that you can plumb, but then again you might still need to find out what else is in reserve.

It will take you 230 odd strokes to cover the course today. That is 230 opportunities for greatness. They also represent 230 choices you can make about how you perform and what you want for yourselves. No race is about the last 50 strokes. Every race is about every stroke, but I daresay one or more moments will come in the race when you will need to make a huge choice about whether to dig deeper, go harder or back off. That choice will define you and all you stand for forever. 

You will draw your inspiration from yesterday’s unbelievable row by Lawrence and Shaun to take Silver in the Mens Pairs, and from the thousands of friends, family and fans you know about, but also from the millions of South Africans who sit glued to the Olympics channels in hope and awe, watching other South Africans being the best they can be. Most importantly, you will draw your inspiration from your hearts, from all that you know yourselves to be and from any higher power on whom you have drawn in the past – Life, God, the Universe – whatever has meaning for you. This is you opportunity to discover who you are at your very core.

There are very few people who become Olympians in any given year – perhaps 0.0001% of the world’s population and perhaps a quarter of those become finalists. The achievement you have already made is enormous, but the possibility you have created of becoming a medallist is one on which only you can act.

Although no one wanted a repecharge and an extra race, I have a sense that that is exactly what you needed. One extra race to bring you to your peak. 

Finally, remember that fear is simply excitement without breath. You will need lots of breath, so be excited from the outset.

I and millions of others will be watching and shouting for you and the rest of Rowing Team SA later today. Go for it.


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