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Injury forces Matthew Brittain into retirement

The 2012 Olympic gold medalist says he was forced to retire after a recurring back injury.

South Africa's James Thompson, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and Sizwe Ndlovu pose on the podium after receiving the gold medal in the men's lightweight four final A of the rowing event during the London 2012 Olympic Games on 2 August, 2012. Picture:AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Matthew Brittain, a member of South Africa's Men's Lightweight fours, famous for their gold medal at the London Olympics, has confirmed to Eyewitness News Sport he has retired from rowing due to a persistent back injury.

Brittain says it's been a frustrating year for him, with injuries punctuating his career.

"It's been incredibly frustrating to be out of the boat and watch the guys training. I've had follow up tests on my back and it still doesn't feel good. I don't feel it's fair on the rest of the team to keep them sitting in the wings and keeping their hopes up."

The gold medallist says he saw it fit to bring an end to his career so that his team can move on and create space for other athletes.

"If my back does get better, then I can come back into something that is already working and healthy and fight for my place."

Brittain says back injuries are nothing new to him and have been something he's struggled with for many years.

"I hurt my back when I was in school in 2004 and 2005. I nursed a bulging disc until 2010. I had surgery later that year that got me through to the 2012 Games. After the Olympics it was still fine, but then in January this year we did some hard training pieces and it starting getting sore again."

Brittain says surgery at this stage would require work on two levels and that would put a lot of stress on the other vertebrae.

He says he was hoping to make a comeback for the 2014 World's team.

"I'm still holding thumbs that I could maybe return in a year or so, but for now, it's not likely."

Looking back at London, Brittain says it's a moment he'll never forget. Along with Sizwe Ndlovu, James Thompson and John Smith, Team SA powered down the final stretch to shock the world and win gold, the countries third of the Games.

"That was the dream come true. I'm grateful for using the opportunity when I had it. When you're a young athlete you always think there will be another opportunity, that's a real lesson, sometimes there isn't."

Mike Vermoer replaced Brittain at the World Championships in Korea earlier this year, where the team finished sixth in the final.