Born to win

2008-08-08 14:45

Cape Town - Although South African sport is currently dominated by the Tri-Nations and the Proteas tour to England, there is that little event called the 2008 Beijing Olympics this month.

With inspirations like Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday party dance routine and Natalie du Toit's double Olympic entries, Team South Africa will be aiming for a vast improvement from Athens four years ago.

On the eve of leaving for Beijing, SA Sport speaks to three outstanding women in the South African Olympic Team.

Nikki Mocke - Canoeing

Nikki Mocke will race in the K4 kayaking event with her teammates Michelle Eray, Carol Joyce and Jen Hodson. The K4 is a difficult event to qualify for, with only 10 K4 teams racing at the Olympics. So Nikki is suitably excited to be heading off to Beijing.

SA Sport: Can you explain canoe sprinting for the layman... ?
Mocke: We race in what looks like a 2km swimming pool. Ladies take part in a 500m sprint which takes the top K4 about 1:35. There are three categories in kayaking, K1 (one person) K2 (2 people) and K4 (4 people).

How are you feeling about going to Beijing?
We are super excited. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. We are amped to race but also a little nervous... I can't wait to see China, it's going to be so different.

Who are the strongest competitors in K4 going into the Games?
Everyone really, but if I was into betting, I would put money on the Germans and the Hungarians having a huge tussle for the K4 500m gold. There's only about two seconds separating the entire field, so the racing is incredibly close.

How do you think you will shape up against them?
Our best result so far is sixth this year in the World Cup. Our goal is top six, but in one second we could be in sixth place or ninth.

What kind of training programme are you involved in this close to the Games?
We are currently on a training camp in Hungary, we train in the morning, doing paddling and gym, then in the afternoon we paddle and run or gym again. It's a rest day on Sunday and a half day on Wednesday and Saturday.

What makes the Olympics so special?
It's about excellence in all sport at the same time. For three weeks every single top sports person is maxing out at their best. It is probably an experience that only one percent of the world gets to experience. Plus qualifying to go is so tough, so you've achieved something just by getting in the door.

Are you and your three K4 teammates close as a team?
Yes, we are all friends first and that is what makes this journey so awesome. We have been through some tough times, which have only made us pull closer and become more of a unit. We have a lot of fun together and know each other so well that we can help motivate and encourage each other. That's what's amazing about being part of a team... we can draw on each other's strengths.

Kate Hector - Hockey

Kate Hector was part of the women's hockey team at the 2004 Games in Athens. So while playing in a second Olympic Games is an incredible achievement, the emotions are quite different.

SA Sport: Representing your country at the Olympics - it must be amazing...?
Hector: Yes, it really is. Representing South Africa at the Olympic Games puts it on a whole new level. This is one of the most prestigious events in the world and I can't describe how proud, excited and grateful I am to have this opportunity for a second time.

You were at Athens in 2004. How is the second time over going to be different?
There is not so much of the 'unknown' this time around. I now know what to expect and so I feel a lot more at ease and relaxed in this build up to the Games.

What kind of experience and advice are you able to pass on to the girls in the team who have not previously played at the Olympic Games?
We've tried to prepare the girls in terms of what to expect and what emotions you tend to go through. The opening ceremony will be a first for all of us as we didn't go to the one in Athens so it will be great to experience.

How are the team preparations going?
All on track thanks. We've recently returned from a month in Europe where we played 10 internationals which was fantastic match practice. We had a week off then went straight to Durban for our last training camp. We spent a few days concentrating on team building experiences so I think we are a really tight unit.

Who are your strongest competitors and how do you think you will fare?
Our entire pool is strong. We've got Holland, China, Australia, Korea and Spain so no easy games there. It's going to be really tough and every last point will help.

Are you concerned at all about the different conditions that you will encounter in Beijing?
It definitely is a worry. It's the extreme heat that we haven't really been able to match anywhere else during our preparation, but we have plenty of time to acclimatise so hopefully we can adjust as best as possible. I am asthmatic and I'm hoping that the much-hyped pollution of Beijing won't affect me too badly.

What keeps you motivated to keep giving it your best?
When you have an Olympic Games to prepare for, everything is worth it. It's a world stage, it's the pinnacle event in any athlete's career. It is so special to be competing amongst the stars of the world in every sport. It brings sporting heroes together in one place at one time and it unifies nations through their passion for sport.

Kate Roberts - Triathlon

Kate Roberts is one of only three South Africans competing in triathlon in Beijing. She's been racing international triathlon for eight years.

SA Sport: How are the nerves ahead of your trip to Beijing?
Roberts: I'm very excited and a bit nervous. It's going to be a dream come true for me to race in Beijing. I've raced the girls in the last two years and I've actually raced on the course before so at least I know what to expect. There's huge pressure, knowing that it's going to be live and you've got everyone watching you. So hopefully I'll have a good race and everything goes according to plan.

Who are the big names in international triathlon at the moment, and what's your aim for Beijing?
At the moment I'd say that Emma Snowsill from Australia is looking the best to take the gold medal. She's running so well and her swimming and biking is right up there. I think she'll be the one to beat. But you could get a complete outsider. In the past they've just come through to win from nowhere in this event. On top of that it's a very strong field. My aim will be to finish in a top 15 position. The swim is going to be really important because there will definitely be a breakaway pack. The winners will almost certainly come from that front pack. So if I could just be in the front pack and have a solid run, I'll be in a good position to strike.

How does it feel to be part of the Olympic team?
It's something I have dreamt about since I was nine, since South Africa was allowed back into the Olympics in 1992. First I was going to be a runner, then I started swimming, then in 2000 when triathlon debuted in Sydney, I decided to pick up triathlon.

What makes the Olympics so special?
When you start playing sport, at the back of your mind you think I'm doing this because I want to get to the Olympics. You see athletes crying on the podium and you know all the hard work that goes into it. And you always hear amazing stories about athletes that have come back from adversity.

What drives you?
Going to the Olympics keeps me going when training gets tough. My dad's been very supportive of my career. He and my sister are coming to watch which will be really nice. My boyfriend also does triathlon (Claude Eksteen races for Germany). He trains with me and has been very supportive of my career. It can be a really lonely sport and a lot of people don't understand what type of work you put into getting to this level.

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