The Olympics through South African eyes

South Africa’s Olympic Committee President Gideon Sam should be proud of his country’s achievements

When Gideon Sam took over from Moss Mashishi as president of the South African Sports Confederations and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) he set a rather ambitious target for London 2012. Sam wanted at least 12 medals. He didn’t care what kind they were. 

South Africa won just one medal in Beijing four years ago. Khotso Mokoena claimed silver in long jump. Disappointment? In 2008 South Africans knew that feeling all too well. After that disastrous campaign many people were happy to see the back of Mashishi.

Sam – well he made for a refreshing change.

He also provided South African journos with heaps of comical sound bites in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games and eventually the Olympics.

On the subject of London 2012 the words “walk the plank”, “we put in the dipstick” and “tomfoolery” were often used by the man from Port Elizabeth, sometimes in the same breath.

Sam was serious about getting 12 medals in London. He promised to resign if Team SA didn’t.

In fact – he was so determined to develop, invest in and eventually pick the right crop of athletes to represent the nation at the 2012 Olympic Games, he warned that no-one was ensured an automatic pass. And when a provisional team was chosen, he proudly exclaimed: “This is not a final team. You see – a few months down the line when we put in the dipstick and we see, no, no, no – here is some tomfoolery here – we’ll take that athlete out. Simple as that!”

Sam put his job on the line in that ambitious bid for “the big 12”. He said: “If we don’t come back with 12 medals, I’ll walk the plank and I am taking the others with me!”

He of course meant his administrative staff – and I am sure some other high profile officials within the Olympic Committee, because he felt if he didn’t deliver on that promise, then his colleagues would have failed in their jobs too.

South Africa did not reach the 12 medal target in London. But man-oh-man did the athletes tug at the heart strings of its sports mad nation.

Chad Le Clos pipped the man who rewrote the swimming’s history books after his “great haul of China” at the previous games – American Michael Phelps, to the post in the 200-metre butterfly event to take gold.

A gold medal as well for Cameron Van De Burgh in the 100-metre breaststroke final and our rowing team claimed the country’s first ever gold in the men’s lightweight four.

Caster Semenya, the woman who had been under the media’s microscope for so long, the woman who was treated so badly by the athletics bosses of the previous regime (there are new people running the show now!), the woman who was the subject of many jokes claimed a silver medal in the 800m race. This was her debut at an Olympics. She’d forever remember this.

And what about double amputee Oscar Pistorius? He featured in his first able-bodied Olympics. He had fought for many years for the privilege.

I am almost positive that most South Africans don’t care that he didn’t win a medal or where he finished in the race – he is a champion for simply appearing at London 2012.

Twitter, Facebook, social media sites were full of praise for the Blade Runner. I actually got goosebumps seeing him on the telly getting ready to represent my country. A proud moment indeed.

A quick glance at the medals table and you’ll see South Africa in 24th with six medals. Three gold, one silver and two bronze.

Is this a failed Olympic bid? I don’t think so.

Will South Africans want Gideon Sam  to “walk the plank”?

I don’t think so either. He has four years to come up with another plan. It doesn’t have to be as bold as 12 medals. But if he can work towards inspiring everyone in the country, as was the case for the past few weeks, he would have delivered 47 million gold medals to the nation. 

Gideon Sam shouldn’t go anywhere just yet.