The Olympic Games have passed their half-way stage already, South African’s sleep deprivation levels have started matching that of new parents and Team SA have won seven medals already, with a couple of great prospects still in the hunt. After Wayde van Niekerk’s incredible run our Olympic hunger is at an all time high. To feed that hunger that you encounter during the day we throwback to the best South African Olympic moments at each Olympic Games since our return from isolation at Barcelona 1992. It obviously excludes anything that has happened in Rio this year so far but you can bet that honour will lie with Wayde. Or Bridgette. Or Caster.
Barcelona 1992 – Elana Meyer – 10 000m
South Africa were allowed to compete at our first Olympic Games since the Games of Rome in 1960 due to the sports ban related to Apartheid. South Africa would win two medals in Spain with the tennis silver medal often forgotten and most of the focus on SA darling Elana Meyer. The athletes set off in the 10 000 metres, a race that would take over 30 minutes to complete. It quickly became clear that it would be won by one of two athletes, Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu or Meyer. Eventually, with one lap remaining, Tulu tore around the track to record a final lap of 64 seconds and claim the gold. However, the abiding memory of the event was created when Tulu and Meyer embraced, draped their national flags around their shoulders, and ran around the track together to massive applause from the crowd.
Athens 1996 – Josiah Thugwane – Gold – Marathon
Penny Heyns had put Team South Africa on the board with two gold medals in the pool, which had been consolidated by a bronze for Marianne Kriel and a silver for Hezekiel Sepeng. But the best moment of South Africa’s post isolation Olympics so far was still to come when Josiah Thugwane became the first black athlete to win a gold medal when he surprised everyone by winning the marathon. Just five months before the Games commenced, Thugwane was carjacked and shot; the bullet grazed his chin, leaving an inch-long scar, and he injured his back as a result of jumping from his moving car. The ultimate rags to riches story of Thugwane should tug at the heart string even now 20 years later.
Sydney 2000 – Terence Parkin – Silver – 200m Breastroke
After the success of Team South Africa in Athens, there were optimistic hopes ahead of our venture to Sydney, home of the most extraordinary opening ceremony. Although the team were unable to win a gold medal they did still accumulate 5 medals through athletics (3) and swimming (2). The standout moment of the games would not be Penny Heyns getting her third Olympic medal, but rather deaf swimmer Terence Parkin who won silver in the 200 m Breastroke. About his trip to the Olympics, Parkin said “I am going to the Olympics to represent South Africa, but it’s so vitally important for me to go, to show that the deaf can do anything. They can’t hear, they can see everything. I would like to show the world that there’s opportunities for the deaf”
Athens 2004 – The Awesome Foursome – Gold – 4 x 100m Relay
Spearheaded by triple medallist Roland Schoeman, South Africa produced arguably the shock result of the entire Olympics. The SA relay team qualified last for the Olympic Games and many had hoped for a final qualification as a best bet, instead hopes started to grow as the SA Team qualified fastest for the final. Of course teams like USA and Australia would bring their big guns for the final, while SA would keep the same four. The final was led off by Roland Schoeman (a Bronze and Silver Medallist for SA that year too) and after Lyndon Fearns had swum SA had a body length lead. 18 year old Darian Townsend swam brilliantly giving the experienced Ryk Neethling the chance to take SA home to the first gold medal since Thugwane and the last until 2012!
Beijing 2008 – Khotso Mokoena – Silver – Long Jump
As abject a performance as South Africa could have, all took place in Beijing. It was the countries worst showing since 1936 in Berlin, but when all hope had gone Khotso Mokoena rocked up to save the countries reputation somewhat. Mokoena saved his silver winning 8.24 jump for the fourth round but Saladino jumped 8.34 to claim gold. Mokoena provided SA a silver lining for a very unfortunate cloud of participation in China.
London 2012 – Chad le Clos – Gold – 200m Butterfly
Although Cameron set the tone and broke a World Record and the Oarsome Foursome smashed Australian hearts the standout memory from 2012 has to be the moment when 20 year old Chad le Clos triumphed over his idol Michael Phelps by 0.05 seconds and denying the greatest Olympian of all time a fifth gold medal at the London Games. It was also spurred on by the “Unbelievable” cry from Bert le Clos after the race. Le Clos had truly arrived on the world stage in a way that no one would forget (as we have been reminded in these games all too much!).
What are your favourite Olympic moments for South Africa since our readmission to International sport?