Let the Games begin!

2012-07-21 16:02

In his Team SA sendoff speech this week, Sascoc president Gideon Sam remarked: “On their shoulders rest the task of burying the ghost of Beijing once and for all.”

The country is still reeling from the one-medal embarrassment, a silver disc contributed by Khotso Mokoena in the long jump at the Beijing Games four years ago.

And now Sam believes the 125-member team – with the 67 males and 58 females – has the depth to yield more than just one random medal in the 17 sports South Africa will compete in between Wednesday and August 12 in London.

Said Sam: “When we started off with this 12 by 12 (12 medals in 2012) dream, it looked so distant. But many people on the street told me they too believe this is a possible target.”

Banyana Banyana will kick off Mzansi’s quest with a Group F contest against Sweden at Coventry City Stadium on Wednesday, 48 hours before the opening ceremony on Friday.

While the women’s football side could be ranked as outsiders based on their debutante status, coach Joseph “Skheshekheshe” Mkhonza’s charges should draw inspiration from the fact that underdogs do come out on top occasionally.

However, history points to the pool and the track as South Africa’s happy hunting grounds for medals since the country’s readmission to international sport in 1992.

Even this time, the composition of the athletics and swimming teams reflects hope.

Former 800m world champion Caster Semenya has proved her big game temperament by putting more experienced two-lap runners in their place in major competitions.

Now 21, the Limpopo-born runner is not only the flag bearer, but carries the nation’s 50 million hopes on her shoulders.

She has consistently produced sub-two-minute performances on the major stage and she is expected to replicate such form in her debut Olympics.

Similarly, Mokoena achieved success in his maiden appearance four years ago and any leap beyond the 8.20m mark will send the country into a frenzy again. His build-up in recent weeks suggests that the “Croc” is almost there.

Eight years ago, swimmers Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling sent the country into an “Awesome Foursome” chant after they clinched the gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle.

The quartet also bettered the world record in the final.

At the same event in Athens, Greece, in 2004, Schoeman won a silver medal in the 100m freestyle and a bronze in the 50m freestyle.

The 32-year-old is now part of a relatively young group of swimmers in the men’s aquatics team in London.

The young brigade of Cameron van der Burgh (24) and Chad le Clos (20) are tipped to cause ripples in their sprint events.

A competition would not be complete without the dark horses, and Team SA has its own in BMX rider Sifiso Nhlapo, 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl and javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen.

Nhlapo reached the final during BMX’s Olympic debut in Beijing and he made a remarkable comeback after knee surgery to qualify via the World Championships in London in May.

Van Zyl, who turned 27 on Friday, churned out three mid-47-seconds performances last season and capped his record-producing (47.66) campaign with a bronze medal at the world champs in Daegu, South Korea, 10 months ago.

Viljoen is nearing the 70m distance and her African record 69.35m heave last month surpassed the 68.38m that earned a bronze medal at Daegu in 2011.

With a R6 million bonus put aside for those who win medals (including the Paralympians) in London, there are more than a million reasons Team SA should conquer the world – and bury the Beijing ghost still haunting Sam.

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