By Mark Etheridge
A quartet of South Africans will be hoping to make a big splash on the medals table at the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan on July 16-26.
The four — Heinrich Sam, Andre De Villiers, Shaun Faccio and Samantha Martin — represent their country in the waterskiing discipline at the Games and on paper at least stand a very real chance of medalling.
But we all know that waterskiing is not done on paper and team official Eugene Sam is quick to point out the vagaries of this high-pressure sporting code.
“If we go on world rankings etc then we should have a very real chance of getting two spots on the medal podium in the barefoot category (Heinrich and Andre). Heinrich is the No 1 waterskiier in the world right now in both the Under-18 and Over-18 categories while Andre is the world No 2 in the Over-18 category.
“Heinrich has been a world champion since he was 11 years old and between him and Andre they hold four world records.
“Their main opposition will come from American Keith St Onge and from Canadian/American David Small. Such is the sport that on any given day one of four people could take gold.
“Taiwan is going to be a total new ball game, we haven’t seen the are were we are taking part, we don’t know if the boats are going to be standardised. All of these things will have an influence. But as I’ve told SASCOC, who have been very good with funding, any waterskiier is a fighter and none of our guys would line up without giving their absolute best at a medal.”
That Heinrich Sam is a fighter, there’s no doubting. Diagnosed with cancer in 2007 doctors gave him six months to live.
Says Eugene Sam: “They cut a tumour the size of a golf ball from behind his ribs and he was given a six month life-span. Since then he’s won another world championships in New Zealand this year and since all his treatment, his last follow-up visit to the surgeons gave him a clean bill of health so he knows all about uphill battles.”
Young Sam is currently a Grade Nine pupil at Owerkruin High School in Pretoria while De Villiers, 21, is a professional skier who plans to coach in the US after the World Games.
The other two South Africans at the World Games, Faccio and Martin, take part in the waveboard and slalom (tricks and jumps) categories respectively.
Faccio, in his early 20s, is based in Vereeniging whwere he sells boats for a living while Martin, also in her early 20s is a Personal Assistant at a Cape Town estate agent.
“I think Shaun stands a good chance of making top 10 in his category while I think Samantha will be using the Games as a springboard for further international competitions,” said Eugene.
The squad are currently hard in training at Tzaneen Dam in Mpumalanga where they have encountered opponents of the sharp-fanged kind.
“They train with hippos (there are at least 26 in the dams) and crocodiles. They see them every day.” Are they scared? “Maybe but I tell them it will just make them ski faster,” concludes Sam.
The full SA waterskiing complement for the World Games: Shaun Faccio, Heinrich Sam, Andre de Villiers, Samantha Martin. Official: Eugene Sam