What next for Team SA?

By Mieke Vlok
23 August 2016

We did extremely well in Rio – but SA has a long way to go if we're to live up to our potential, experts say.

Hundreds of eager fans lined the balistrades of the OR Tambo arrivals hall to welcome our star athletes home as they touched down in Joburg this morning. 

We certainly have reason to be proud -- SA equalled its Games record by winning 10 medals, something that happened only in 1952 in Helsinki and 1910 in Antwerp. But this is not the time to rest on our laurels, experts warn. “One doesn’t want to be negative after our atheletes performed so exceptionally but there’s naturally always room for improvement,” says sports scientist Professor Ross Tucker. “We can now stop and sit back or we can try to do even better.”

Where can we improve?

We must start by investing in promising athletes and getting them onto decent training programmes at good sports institutions, Professor Tucker says. “Our success in Rio was not due to a strategy but thanks to individual athletes who trained extremely hard. Just think how far we could get if we coached promising athletes properly.”

Wilhelm de Swardt, a sport publicist, agrees and says we shouldn’t bluff ourselves after our achievements this year. “Akani Simbine finished fifth in the 100 m for men and was three hundredths of a second away from a medal.” He says this sort of athlete should train at the right sport establishments where they’ll have good coaches and enough financial support because they have the potential to do even better in future. We’re under-achieving in swimming, say Professor Tucker and De Swardt. “It’s been the same two swimmers since 2012 – Chad le Clos and Cameron van den Burg – who’ve had to bring in the medals, De Swardt says. He says there is more local talent that has to be discovered and properly trained.

Professor Tucker agrees and adds that more should be invested in women athletes. “Only two of our 10 medals at Rio were won by women. The shortage of women in our team is not because we don’t have female talent.”

How can Sascoc help?

The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) must make sure that athletes can train for their events without worrying about money, De Swardt says. “They’re fixated on rankings instead of helping promising talent.” Professor  Tucker also feels Sascoc tends to help only athletes who regularly win medals – but not always enough. “If someone like Sunette Viljoen, one of the best javelin throwers in the world, has to beg for money, you can just imagine how up-coming athletes are struggling.”

Last year Sunette slammed SASCOC for not properly looking after the country’s athletes.

“The athletes who rely on the Opex programme have to wait weeks before even their most basic costs are covered. There isn't even a stipend for nutrition, one of the most important parts of being an elite athlete. Nor is there assistance for big medical expenses, should athletes no longer have funds available from their medical aid,” she wrote.

What events can we still win?

There are a few events in which South African can still shine, says Wilhelm. “Rugby and was at one point our countries strongest sport code, but we received a medal in that event since 1960.”

South Africa has already won 19 medals for rugby.

Also, cycling, triathlon and golf are some of our stronger events. “Our swimming is in a bit of a crisis,” says Willem. “We need more female swimmers.”

Ross says South Africa’s rowing and kayaking teams are very good these days and agrees that our rugby used to be strong and can be again. “

Women’s sport in general, especially track and field athletes, can also fare well in the future.” Unfortunately, he says it costs money and resources to further develop these sport codes. What are are prospects for Tokyo 2020? South can do very well in the next Olympic Games, which takes place fours from now in the Japanese capital, if our athletes train hard. Wilhelm says the sprinter Akani Simbine, the javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen and cyclist Louis Meintjies stand a good chance of winning. Sprinter Wayde van Niekerk also has a good chance of winning gold again.

“If the rules don’t change to exempt her from competing then Caster Semenya will most likely defend her title,” says Ross of the country’s star 800 m athlete.
“She could be the Olympic champion for the next two seasons.” He also rates long-jump star Luvo Manyonga, who won silver in Rio, and Rushwahl Samaai, who placed ninth in Rio.
“Chad le Clos will have to improve he wants to win big in 2020,” says Ross. He adds that there was a lot of pressure on Chad this year because everyone was expecting him to beat Michael Phelps again and he was going through a difficult time personally. Both of his parents were recently diagnosed with cancer.

“There are many who says he still needs to balance out. He can keep swimming until into his late twenties and will as good as he’s always been.”

Read more:

Wayde’s reportedly in trouble for sharing this photo

‘I’m dying of shame’: Rio student after photos of her ‘in bed’ with Usain Bolt surface

‘The doctors told us he had 24 hours to live’: Wayde van Niekerk’s parents share his remarkable story

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