The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a thing of the past and it’s time to celebrate Team South Africa on the wonderful achievement of reaching their target of medals.
The swimmer, Cameron van der Burgh, started it all off for South Africa by winning the silver medal in the men’s 100m breaststroke. This was followed by South Africa’s swimming golden boy, Chad de Clos, who won silver in the men’s 200m freestyle and the 100m butterfly. In the process Le Clos became South Africa’s most decorated Olympian champion, with four medals in total – one gold and three silver.
The cancer survivor, Lawrence Brittain, and Shaun Keeling, took home silver in the men’s coxless pair (rowing) in a time of 7:02.51, by beating out the third-place Italian pair by just over two seconds.
The Commonwealth Games champions, Springbok Sevens, won the bronze in the men’s rugby, after unfortunately losing to Great Britain in the semi-finals, but trashed Japan 54-14 in the bronze match.
The long jumper, Luvo Manyonga, put drug addiction and the death of his coach and fatherly figure, Mario Smith, behind him to take silver with a leap of 8.37m, just one centimetre short of the winning distance set by the USA’s Jeff Henderson.
The 24-year-old, Vereeniging-born Henri Schoeman, surprised everyone by bagging the bronze in the men’s triathlon, to beat his countryman, Richard Murray, to the finish line by seven seconds.
South Africa’s javelin queen, Sunette Viljoen, came full-circle by finally winning an Olympic medal with throw of 64.92m to take silver in the women’s javelin. She was also the first woman to a medal in Rio for the country. She adds the Olympic medal to her All Africa Games bronze (2), African Championships gold (5) and silver, Commonwealth Games gold (2) and silver and two World Championships bronze.
Leaving the best for last, our gold medals. First up, the Bloemfontein sprinting sensation, Wayde van Niekerk, smashed the men’s 400m world record to win gold in the event in a time of 43.03 to become the fastest man even in sprinting’s most daunting discipline. A very interesting fact is that Van Niekerk was also born premature at 29 weeks and the doctors believed that the sprinter wouldn’t survive the first 24 hours.
The cherry on top was South Africa’s track super star, Caster Semenya, who put all bad press and negativity behind her to finally win an Olympic gold in the women’s 800m. She added the gold to the silver she won in London in 2012 and op top of that, she has a World Championship gold and silver as well as an All-Africa Games gold. While she missed on the world record, she did set a new personal best in 1:58.23 seconds and that it’s also a new South African record.
More medals were on the cards for South Africa and it could have been a total of 13 the day Chad le Clos medalled in the 200m butterfly, but just like two of our rowing boats, had to be content with 4th.
In a rather shameful move by Athletics South Africa that they failed to enter a men’s 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m relay team in any of the Olympic qualifying events and the times Van Niekerk, Akani Simbini, Anaso Jobodwana and Henricho Bruintjies have been running this season, one cannot help but feel that there were two medals up grabs and it would have taken our tally to 15.
Be that as it may, 15 medals is a fantastic target for Tokyo 2020. While Team South Africa’s tracksuits left a bitter taste, out athletes made South Africa immensely proud! – MORGAN PIEK