Former South African IT technican rows for Olympic medal against all odds

Three years ago, Sizwe Ndlovu gave up his job as an IT technician to pursue his dream of winning an Olympic gold in rowing at the London Games.

It seemed a far-fetched hope.

Firstly, he was from South Africa, a country with precious little international rowing pedigree. At that point, it had won one medal in rowing -- a bronze in the men's pair at the Athens Games in 2004.

Then, there was the fact he was a black man from KwaZulu Natal, a province whose sporting prowess is traditionally confined to rugby, cricket and football. Certaintly not rowing.

He forged on with his dream, nevertheless. And against all the odds, it was realized on Thursday.

Ndlovu stroked South Africa's lightweight men's four to victory in a nerve-jangling Olympic final at Dorney Lake, coming through late to edge a favored British crew by 0.25 seconds.

It secured his country's first-ever gold medal in the sport and will make him and fellow crew members James Thompson, Matthew Brittain and John Smith iconic figures back home.

"I am the first black man in South African rowing (to win gold)," he told The Associated Press. "I feel very proud of that and for people in Africa to see what I've been doing.

"People normally ask you, 'Why you do rowing?' It's costly and it takes up a lot of time. You can't just train for a month and be done. It's a full-time commitment. There's no money, and you have to work so hard at the same time."

When Ndlovu discovered that South Africa had won, he leapt into the arms of each of his crew, not quite believing the names next to the No. 1 position on the big screen.

A royal reception awaits for Ndlovu when he return home.

"He will be received as a prince or a king," South Africa team leader Patience Shikwambana said. "We call KwaZulu Natal "The Kingdom." So that means when he gets there, the King is going to come and welcome him and say, 'Yes boy, you've done us proud."'

Shikwambana said he hoped the 31-year-old Ndlovu, who is due to start a degree in sports science after the Olympics, will inspire a new generation of black kids to take up rowing.

"We are encouraging our youth to say, "Look, let's not just focus on netball or football as the black sports,' but (that) they can get involved in any sports as long as they are given exposure at an early age."

Ndlovu took up rowing 15 years ago and has been supported well by the South African federation.

"In the past two years, I've made really important strides with the three guys standing behind me," he said, referring to his crew. "They mean a lot to me.

"It was one of my biggest hopes to win an Olympic gold medal and I'm very excited about the future."