The world of sport is both glorious and gruesome, writes MARK ETHERIDGE in Gold Coast, Australia.
After the gold-medal glory of Henri Schoeman in the men’s individual triathlon on Thursday, Team South Africa were gonged out from the get-go, and took last place in Saturday’s Mixed Team Relay at Southport beachfront here.
Eight teams of four took on a 250-metre swim, 7km cycle and 1.5km run. South Africa clocked a combined time of 1hr 23min 34sec, two seconds shy of a six-minute deficit behind gold medal winners Australia, who beat England and New Zealand into the minor podium places.
Simone Ackermann took on the first leg and, coming out of the swim, looked comfortably placed midway through the pack. But minutes into the bike leg, the wheels came off (not literally) and she was powerless to stick with the leaders.
She slipped back down the field at a rate of knots, and South African supporters around the world would have had knots in their stomachs at her distress.
The New Zealand-based athlete was clearly in pain as she hobbled off the bike dismount and limped around the run leg in tears.
Explained coach Lindsey Parry: ‘Of course, it’s very disappointing but that’s sport. At first glimpse, she appears to have either aggravated a previous hip injury or even picked up a new injury. She felt it 2km into the bike as she put down the power after one of the technical sections and from that point on, she simply had no power and it also affected her run badly.
‘She managed to do a few revs before the race and everything seemed okay but we’ll have to get her to the doctor for an MRI scan for more clarity though.
‘Understandably, she’s devastated but this is sport and there WILL be more opportunity. With this event being part of the Tokyo Olympics in two years’ time it’s a definite medal opportunity and now, more than ever, we need to race tougher and get the team to know each other and integrate as a team going forward.
‘We’ll put this result in a box now and it’s a case of remembering what happened but not repeating it.’
Murray and Schoeman showed great maturity and understanding afterwards.
‘It’s one of those things,’ said Murray. ‘A team race is like a long chain and if that first link breaks, the rest of the chain is broken.
‘Once you lose ground on the bike near the start, it’s incredibly hard to make up and the Aussie and English teams saw what was happening and worked hard together to make sure we never got a sniff again.
‘I’ve been in this situation myself in races and it’s not nice. But I didn’t need any motivation to still leave everything out there. People around the world and back in SA are watching on TV so you have to give your all regardless of what’s happening.’
Schoeman was just as comforting. ‘It’s really not an issue. It’s a team sport and there is still good team spirit.
‘I’ve chatted to Simone and she’s obviously very down and it’s rough. I’ve tried to cheer her up. I know where she’s coming from and I have been there before.’
Of course he has, having been the victim of a fake news report earlier this year in which he was falsely accused of failing a dope test after the Rio Olympics two years ago.
‘Even though we’re behind today, I still gave it everything and didn’t give up. This is a team event and it’s one for all and one for all.’
Schoeman now jets off to a three-week camp in the United States before focusing on the first Olympic distance triathlon of the year in Bermuda.
Murray leaves for two weeks in the Netherlands (his European base) and then he also jets off to Bermuda.
Photo: Ackermann on the bike leg of the mixed team relay, Robert Cianflone/Getty Images