By Jody Hendricks
2012 is the 20th anniversary of South Africa being allowed back into the International sports arena. South Africa is a sport mad country. Athletes are National heroes and the pride of the nation – when they win. Lose and the whole nation goes depro and wants to crucify them.
Since re-admission South Africa has produced some amazing sport stars. But only a selected few has achieved true greatness.
Here are five South African sports stars that have made their mark in the world stage.
1. Lucas Rabede
The Soweto born soccer star made his name with local giants Kaizer Chiefs, but left for Leeds United in the English Premiership in 1994. His solid defense and African flair made him a crowed favoured at Elland Road. In 1996 he was part of the victorious Bafana Bafana team that won the African Cup of Nations.
His Leadership qualities also didn’t go unnoticed and he was handed the Captains armband for both club and country. Under his leadership Leeds United became one of the most feared teams in England. During his time at Elland Road he turned down offers from both Manchester United and AC Milan.
Current Man United Captain Rio Ferdinand who played under Radebe at Leeds, regards Lucas as his hero. In 2005 a local brewery in England were looking for a name for a new beer, they came up with name, Radebeer, to honour the South African legend. English Rock group, Kaiser Chiefs named the band after the team who their favourite footballer played for in South Africa. At National level he has played 70 games for Bafana Bafana took them two World Cups in 1998 and 2002. With a CV like this, “The Chief” deserves to be number one.
2. Os Du Randt
This “Boer” from Bloemfontein has won almost every rugby trophy, twice. He is the only South African that has won two Rugby World Cup medals. He was part of the inspirational dream team in 1995 and a star-studded Bok team in 2007. Add two Tri-Nations trophy’s with the Boks in 1998 and 2004 and two Currie Cup championships with the Cheetahs in 2005 and 2006, then Os has to be one of our greatest sports stars.
The only cup that eluded the big guy in his playing days is a Super rugby trophy. He played 80 tests for the Boks in a career that lasted more than 15 years. The big number one gets the number two spot.
3. Benni McCarthy
Benni was always going to be a super star. He left South Africa as an ambitious 18-year-old footballer, determined to make his mark on the World stage – and he did. He’s won trophy’s with top Clubs in the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa. The pinnacle being the UEFA Champions League with FC Porto in 2005, the only South African to have done this so far.
In 2007 he joined Blackburn Rovers in the English Premiership. Together with Christiano Ronaldo he ended as the league’s joint top goal scorer in his first season. Ronaldo was the world footballer of the year at the time. Even though he’s not playing International soccer anymore, Big Mac is still Bafana Bafana’s leading goal scorer, he found the back of the net on 30 occasions, he was also the first South African to score an International hat-trick. He is currently playing for Orlando Pirates in the PSL.
4. Penny Heyns.
Remember her? This water baby put swimming in South Africa on the world map when she won two gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games. But what makes her one of our greatest Olympic athletes is the fact that she backed this up with a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic games.
She was model athlete long before swimsuit edition became popular. Besides her success at the Olympics, she has also broken various world records and has won World championships and Commonwealth games medals in a career that has been nothing short of magnificent. Penny Heyns will always be golden girl of South African sport. With three Olympic medals, she streams in at number four.
5. Hansie Cronje
Hansie would’ve been our number one choice if he didn’t get a life ban from International cricket for match fixing. In his prime he was the most popular sports star in South Africa and took the Proteas to the top of the cricketing world. His never say die attitude not only inspired the players around him but the Nation as a whole. He still holds many records as both player and captain of the Proteas.
His canny boy next-door charm combined with his match winning performances of the field, earned him a cult status with sports mad South Africans. He made some mistakes, got involved with the wrong people and that put an early end to what was already a majestic playing career. When you think of Hansie Cronje don’t say fallen hero, say captain fantastic. Cronje completes the list at number five, the same number that was on the back of his famous Proteas jumper. R.I.P, captain my captain.