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UJ rowers eyeing Tokyo Olympics Paralympics qualification despite COVID-19 disruptions

In every sport, it is every athlete’s dream to compete at the highest level not only to win prizes and set records, but to achieve success against the world’s best performers. This is the vision of Lifa Hlongwa and his peers in the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) rowing club.

Hlongwa and his teammates recently competed virtually against the Universities of Cape Town and Pretoria for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent national lockdown began in March 2020. The team has its eyes on the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics which are set to take place this year after they were postponed due to the global disruptions caused by the coronavirus in 2020.

“It was great to have compete again. It was really amazing to race against TUKS and UCT and measure ourselves up against two of the bigger and supposedly better clubs,” said Liam Fortuin, UJ Rowing Vice-President.

Fortuin noted that due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the UJ, UCT and TUKS clubs agreed that it was safer to compete against each other virtually. “We also had to consider that logistically, it would’ve been really difficult for UCT to get up to Gauteng to race against us and TUKS, or for the Gauteng teams to travel to the Western Cape,” says Fortuin.

Fortuin explained that they were confident that a UJ Paralympian would qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics. “We have Lifa Hlongwa currently preparing to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics. He has been working really hard throughout December and January. He has to race in Gavirate, Italy, in the final qualification regatta for the Tokyo Paralympics. With the hard work he has put in, the club undoubtedly believes we’ll see him race in Tokyo.”

Some of the UJ rowers to look for in the coming competitions and qualifications include the likes of Lebone Mokheseng, Kelebogile Dibakoane and Dane Walker.

“Lebone Mokheseng has punched above his weight category to keep up with the best heavyweight rowers in the country. Caleb Haydock did exceptionally well to win the Men’s B Division. Makungu Masangu, the women’s captain, did really well, making it to the quarterfinals in A Division. This made her the fastest UJ female rower. The woman’s recruit, Kelebogile Dibakoane, showed a lot of potential when she placed second in the Women’s B Division,” explains Fortuin.

The Club hopes to win the University Boat Race which will be held in September 2021 and qualify as many rowers as possible to the World University Rowing Championships squad in August this year.

“We also hope, if restrictions permit, that we get to race USSA-R sprints in May,” he says.

Jim Dietz once said, “In rowing, as in life, there are competitors and there are racers. The competitor works hard and rows to his limit. The racer does not think of limits, only the race” – a statement that inspired the UJ rowers.

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