RIO HERE WE COME . . . Top Zimbabwean rowers Micheen Thornycroft (centre) and Peter Purcell-Gilpin (left) are joined by their friend Warrick Rodgers in celebrating their qualification for next year’s 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil

RIO HERE WE COME . . . Top Zimbabwean rowers Micheen Thornycroft (centre) and Peter Purcell-Gilpin (left) are joined by their friend Warrick Rodgers in celebrating their qualification for next year’s 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil

Takudzwa Chitsiga Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWEAN rowers Micheen Thornycroft and Peter Purcell-Gilpin have qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Thornycroft and Purcell-Gilpin booked their tickets to the world’s biggest sporting showcase at the FISA African Olympic Qualification Regatta which was held in Tunisia from Sunday to yesterday.

Thornycroft, who is affectionately known as “Mouse”, swept aside all opposition in the M4x class at the African qualification regatta while Purcell-Gilpin came fourth in the final of the repechage to join the former at the 2016 Rio Games.

Racing against top rowers from Togo, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt, Thornycroft was far too strong for the field and came first.

According to reports from Tunisia, the weather was not at all kind to the rowers all week at the venue for the FISA African Olympic Qualification Regatta but Thornycroft managed to handle the conditions well.

The Zimbabwean female rower started the competition by winning her heat on Monday and in so doing advanced to the A/B semi-final where she had to come in the top three to qualify for the A final.

As the fastest qualifier, Thornycroft had the middle lane in the final and so had a great view of the rest of the athletes rowing on either side of her as she powered her way to the front as the gun went.

The Zimbabwean athlete has been improving since moving to train in South Africa at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria under the expert guidance and coaching of the South African national rowing coach Roger Barrow.

Barrow also coached the SA M4x crew to the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

Since moving to South Africa to train, there Thornycroft has set personal best times three times at three major competitions — the SA Senior Championships in Pretoria in April, at the World Rowing Cup III held in Lucerne, Switzerland, in July and again at the World Rowing Championships held in September in France.

Meanwhile, Purcell-Gilpin made the men’s A final and also had to come in the top four in his race to also qualify for Rio 2016.

Rowing in lane one, Purcell-Gilpin raced against the best rowers from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Namibia.

In this race, a rower from Egypt came in first, followed by the rowers from Tunisia, Algeria and then Purcell-Gilpin.

Purcell-Gilpin had a longer and harder road to the final as he needed to win his first heat to make it straight through to the A/B semi-final.

He was beaten into second place and so had to compete in the repechage event where he had to come in the top three to make it to the A/B semi-final.

He rowed well to qualify for the semi-final and then had to come in the top three to make the A final.

A tight race saw Purcell-Gilpin beaten into third place but that was good enough to make the A final.

So Zimbabwe can now boast of two rowers who have qualified for the Rio Games and their seats on the plane to South America are all but filled.

The Rowing Association of Zimbabwe said they are absolutely thrilled with the pair’s achievements and are extremely proud of all the hard work and dedication shown by the two.

So far, four Zimbabwean athletes have qualified for the Rio Games and they are swimming sensation Kirsty Coventry, long-distance runner Wirimai Juwawo, Thornycroft and Purcell-Gilpin.

Coventry will be competing in her fifth straight Olympic Games while Juwawo and Thornycroft will be making their second appearances at the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza for the second time in a row after having first competed at the London Games in 2012.

Purcell-Gilpin will be making his debut appearance at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August next year.