March 2024

They’ve done it again! St Benedict’s College remains unbeaten, holding onto the coveted title of South Africa’s School Rowing Champions, for the 30th consecutive year. Despite fierce competition at the annual schools’ regatta (1-3 March 2024), the Johannesburg boys’ school placed first in the lion’s share of the events, out rowing teams from the best of South Africa’s rowing schools.

The annual three-day regatta was held at Roodeplaat Dam with crews of rowers from 13 boys’ schools taking part. The event was alive with energy and the thrill of watching the teams give everything of themselves to finish first. All 751 boys who participated were striving for the top spot, eager to dethrone the champions. However, the remarkable dedication and countless hours of training, both on and off the water, solidified St Benedict’s victory and the fight to hold onto this coveted title unified the Bennies boys. For some of these boys, this was their last SA Champs so it was quite an emotional moment to bring to an end to their school rowing career.

The school placed first in the U14, U15 and Open age groups. The tightly contested and highly prized 1st Eight race, often described as the main event of the weekend, also went to St Benedict’s. When all the scores were tallied, St Benedict’s was recognised as South Africa’s top boys’ rowing school winning with 447 points.

Strong Competition

Top contenders for the 2024 title included St Alban’s College, St Stithians, St John’s College, Jeppe Boys, King Edward VII School and St Andrew’s Grahamstown. All the competitors deserve to be praised and it was encouraging to see top performances across both co-ed and monastic schools. Several Zimbabwean schools also demonstrated their skills on the water.

Speaking about the win, College Head, Dave Jeffrey says, “St Benedict’s College has long been one of the best schools in South Africa for rowing and this win has reaffirmed our pedigree. Retaining our stellar record of success is no stroke of luck. It’s the culmination of unwavering focus and countless hours of training on and off the water – early in the morning and late into the night. Our boys have exemplified how struggles, sacrifices, and unwavering dedication can yield remarkable success. We’re incredibly proud of them and all they have achieved this weekend and during the gruelling 2023/2024 rowing season.”

Jeffrey adds, “It goes without saying, that the commitment of coaches and parents, as well as a continuous investment into our flagship sport, is a big part of why we have such a large percentage of our boys selecting rowing as their preferred summer sport. Success breeds success and everyone wants to be part of a winning team. We are also really excited at the transformation we are seeing in rowing and we’re proud of how diverse our teams are across all boat classes and age groups. From crew to coaches – we are delighted at the strong representation we have cultivated.”

Winning all of their events – the U14s were without doubt the shining stars amongst the St Benedict’s rowers. Other highlights include that First Eight won by an emphatic margin and this was the first time St Benedict’s won the U14, U15 and the U16 Single Scull. Another high point was the gold medal in the U14 Double. The school also won the big five: U14 Oct, U15 Oct, U16 Eight, Second Eight and the First Eight.

Culture of Rowing

A proud and committed Bennies Old Boy, Darryn Roff runs and coaches the St Benedict’s Rowing Club. He says, “Success in rowing hinges on a combination of hard work and persistence. Our training is deliberate, backed by science and years of experience and we strive to foster a profound sense of self-belief through our mentoring approach. This win is the result of all these factors. It’s the Bennies way and it works. We are the only South African school to hold onto 30 back-to-back titles in this demanding sport.

“Our rowing culture has been developed over many years and sustained by continuous support from school management. It’s been greatly shaped by old boys who now serve as coaches. This has ingrained a culture of diligence, teamwork, unwavering dedication, and a commitment to forging a lasting legacy,” adds Roff.

Over the years St Benedict’s has turned out top South African rowers and many international university rowers were born and bred at the school. One of South Africa’s most renowned rowers – Ramon di Clemente – was part of the first intake of rowers at the school and his longevity and success in the sport is unparalleled. He made the national U19, U23, and Senior teams. He competed in the coxless pair event and went to the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, bagging a bronze medal at the Athens Games! He went to multiple World Championships where he walked away with a medal from every event.

1994 – St Benedict’s First Win

Recalling the first time that St Benedict’s won the National Rowing Champions, Class of ‘94 rowing captain, Charles Nyman, says, “The 1994 season was infused with an immense sense of enthusiasm. It became evident that the team was destined for success, and this was amplified with each victory. This sparked a growing self-belief among the team, leading to continuous improvements in our results. Throughout all age groups, a strong culture of collective responsibility and pride prevailed. Seniors actively supported juniors, and reciprocally, juniors contributed to the team’s success, fostering a collaborative environment. It was a culture characterised by shared responsibilities and a collective drive toward the ultimate success.”

Adding to this Nyman says, “The most unforgettable moment undoubtedly remains the triumphant victory of the first overall SA Championship’s trophy. When I started, in 1990, we had a single skulls trailer with six singles and a fours trailer that could hold three fours/quads and no boat house. By 1994 we had an armada of boats and equipment. It was Mr Dobson’s vision, conceived two years prior, and the dedication of all the staff, coaches, parents and rowers who transformed his vision into reality well ahead of schedule. Bennies rowing had arrived!”

In closing, Jeffrey says, “When our boys row, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. They merge into one smoothly working machine. It’s like poetry in motion – a symphony of swinging blades that carried them to the podium. Congratulations boys; your achievement is a milestone for our school and will be talked about for many years to come.”

The 2024 Champions across the categories:

Around 70 officials and eight medics (per shift) were part of the day’s proceedings with 4 150 spectators supporting the 1 102 athletes from 25 schools who participated in the 2024 South African Rowing Championships.

Best Co-ed School      3rd       Peterhouse & Germiston High School

(Out of 4)                     2nd      St Dunstan’s

1st       Somerset College

Best Girls School        3rd       St Stithians

(Out of 8)                     2nd      St Andrew’s School for Girls

1st       St Mary’s School Waverley

Best Boys School       3rd       St Alban’s College

(Out of 13)                   2nd      King Edward’s VII School

1st       St Benedict’s College