"We are going forward, until the fat lady has sung here in London. We are still going for 12."
These were the words echoed by Gideon Sam, Sascoc President, in an interview a few months before the London Olympic Games. He was confident of the chances Team South Africa had of recording their highest medal tally at the Olympics. He was justified in his confidence, as the team did achieve its highest medal tally since readmission. But the team was some way off Sascoc's expected tally.
One cannot be disappointed in Team South Africa's return of six medals at the London Olympics, especially in the context of the team's past Olympic performances. At the Beijing Games, the team was at its lowest ebb, as it only returned with a single medal. It was the lowest of a gradual slide since the highs of the Atlanta Olympics. In London, the successes of Team South Africa showed the potential of the team and a new guard in South African Olympic sport.
I believe that athletes can only do so much to ensure a country's overall success at the Olympic Games. Athletes need a strong base from which to reach their optimum performance. This is where I feel South African sports bodies need to play a greater role to boost the performances of Team South Africa even more in future Olympic Games.
Was planning a vision not a priority?
Team South Africa's previous Olympic campaigns have arguably been hampered by a lack of a clear vision by the controlling body of the team. I believe that an objective to be successful and to get as many medals as possible at the Olympics does not constitute an entire vision. The planning and strategies put in place to ensure that this kind of success is possible constitutes an entire vision.
|Khotso Mokoena, South Africa's only medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Picture: Supplied|
Team South Africa went through a gradual slide in Olympic Games proceeding the 1996 Atlanta Games. Even when they won medals in the following campaigns, the team did not build on those successes.
Numerous controlling bodies of teams which represent Team South Africa have been unstable. This took focus away from implementing ways to maximise the success of South African Olympic teams. Athletics South Africa (ASA); the South African Football Association (Safa), Swimming South Africa (SSA) and even Sascoc to name a few, have featured in the news during the past decade in cases of infighting and instability.
Under the leadership of Gideon Sam however, Sascoc seems to be heading in the right direction. ASA and SSA are in the process of overcoming a bad decade in terms of administration, while Safa is languishing in its attempts to ensure the qualification of the under 23 men's team at the Olympics. Considering the positives of Team South Africa at the London Olympics, the potential of South African athletes and the shortcomings, it is conceivable to imagine a highly successful Team South African at the Olympics; a Team South Africa which returns with 12 or more medals from the spectacle.
London 2012 as blueprint
|Team South Africa enters the 2012 London Olympics. Picture: Supplied|
Team South Africa has to build from the momentum it has generated at the London Olympics. The team has to aim for higher goals than its record-breaking medal tally. It cannot go through a similar cycle as the Atlanta and Athens Games, where these campaigns were followed by weaker Team South Africa performances in Sydney and Beijing respectively. The London Olympics should be a guide to South Africa on how they should improve for the Rio Olympics and beyond.
ASA and SSA, who have provided the bulk of South Africa's Olympic medal winners, should consider investing more in building greater depth in South African athletics and swimming. More athletes in the ilk of Cameron van der Burgh, Chad le Clos and Caster Semenya could increase the medal count of South Africa in future Olympics. Lesser renowned sports such as rowing and canoeing, which have brought medals for Team South Africa could also improve and motivate athletes through more support in finances and infrastructural development.
Waking up sleeping giants
South African athletics
Returning with a single medal is not the best effort of the South African athletics team. At the Atlanta, Sydney and Athens Games, the team returned with more than a single medal. They were expected to win more medals at the London Olympics. Despite having solid campaigns in events such as the World Athletics Championships and in respective meets around the world, South Africa's track and field stars do not seem to be able to perform collectively in Olympic Games. Besides Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya, the likes of javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen, 400 metres hurdler LJ van Zyl and long jumper Khotso Mokoena were all tipped for success at the London Olympics. It was also unfortunate that Athens Olympics 800 metres silver medallist and former World Champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi did not qualify for the London Olympics.
ASA should work on enhancing the performances of South Africa's track and field athletes at Olympic Games. Semenya, Viljoen and emerging 200 metres talent Anaso Jobodwana did well in their respective campaigns in London, but greater depth is needed in South African athletics. This is a point emphasised by Atlanta Games silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng, who says having greater depth in South African athletics will take pressure off the country's leading athletes.
ASA needs to return to the promise it showed in the late 90s. Hosting the 1998 IAAF World Cup and attracting the world's top athletes in subsequent domestic athletics meets, South African athletics seemed to be heading in the right direction. But this progress has stalled in the past decade, and arguably, South African athletes have been affected the most. Imagine what it would do for the morale of these athletes if the likes of Usain Bolt, David Rubisha and Valerie Adams came to compete in a South African athletics meet. The late 90s saw the likes of Marion Jones and Michael Johnson grace these events, and for a short while, South Africa had a large team competitive athletes.
|Multiple Olympic medallist, Penny Heyns. Picture: Supplied|
The same could be done in South African swimming, particularly because there seems to never be a shortage of South African swimmers. More could be done by SSA to ensure that the most talented young swimmers in South Africa receive enough backing and training to reach their potential.
South Africa's medal winners should also receive sufficient support to be in a position to do well in more than one Olympic Games campaign. It would be a pity if 20 year old Chad le Clos or even Cameron van der Burgh have reached their pinnacle as Olympic swimmers. But reality is that besides Penny Heyns, no South African swimmer has won an Olympic medal in consecutive Games.
It is particularly alarming that no South African woman has won an Olympic medal since Penny Heyns won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Games. This is enough evidence to show that much work needs to be done in South African swimming.
The state of South African soccer deserves a blog post of its own. While Banyana Banyana, South Africa's women's soccer team, performed in their first Olympic Games in London, their male counterparts have failed to qualify for the last three Olympics.
The lack of success of the South African Under 23 men's soccer team echoes the rather forgettable decade South African men's soccer teams have had. The team failed to build from their debut showing at the Sydney Olympics and a lack of continuity and successful development structures on Safa's part have let the team down. South Africa has the best soccer infrastructure in Africa, but it all counts for nothing if players are not being developed in this environment.
The problems facing South African soccer have been largely attributed to the governing body, Safa. Although the current leadership of the organization is putting in place measures to rebuild South African soccer, immediate success is necessary in South African soccer. Banyana Banyana need to to receive sufficient backing to improve their performances in future Olympics. South Africa's Under 23 men's soccer team has to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Success in these and future international endeavours of South Africa's soccer teams can only be possible if young players are being developed in South African soccer structures and are graduating successfully to top level soccer.
Optimism towards Rio 2016
South Africa was the highest placed African country at the London Olympics medal standings. Placed higher than African giants Ethiopia and Kenya, South Africa is a leading African nation in Olympic sport. Performing well in continental and global sporting events, there is still much room for improvement for Team South Africa in the Olympics. Let 12 medals be the achievable short-term goal for the team in Olympic Games. Team South Africa should work harder and more effectively to make higher aspirations a possibility.