On a quieter day for Team SA at the African Games, when the swimmers left for home and the track and field athletes counted down to Monday’s competition along with the cyclists, it was left to badminton to fly the flag, writes GARY LEMKE.
The Mixed Team even saw them come up against a powerful Algerian squad in the semi-finals and dragged their opponents the whole way before going down 3-2, which left them as automatically one of two bronze medallists given there’s no playoff for third and fourth. Given that Algeria hadn’t dropped a set in beating the DR Congo and Uganda 5-0 in the group stages and Kenya 3-0 in the quarter-finals this was a performance full of spirit and fight by Team SA.
And, it was just the big points that Algeria played better that saw them over the line at the Ain Chock Arena in Casablanca. ‘It was a really tight match,’ said Bongani van Bodenstein. ‘It’s our first medal but not the colour we wanted. But hopefully this coming week we can change that and we’re expecting five medals in the coming days,’ he added.
‘We’ve had a good competition as far as performance has gone,’ he said. ‘We arrived in Morocco and thankfully found that the conditions are similar to what they are at home, so we didn’t need to make any adjustments. But our group. was tough! We beat Eritrea 5-0 and then lost 3-2 to Egypt before beating Mauritius 3-1 in the quarter-finals. Remember too that Mauritius won gold in the team event in Brazzaville four years ago. They were a good team, but we managed to pull through against them. And against Algeria we came so very close.
‘The difference against Algeria was that they played the big moments better. They are more experienced than us, they play all over Europe and they train overseas. But there has been high intensity and big pressure in our matches and we just need to adjust to that level to be really competitive. That will come in time,’ added the 22-year-old.
What of the future for this mixed team squad? ‘We definitely feel like a family, this trip we have bonded. This is the first time that we have been on tour together and for some of us this is the first senior championships. So, it’s been a big jump up, but an enjoyable one. This is the team we are looking to grow for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2024 Olympics.’
Jarred Elliott, 19, chipped in. ‘Conditions were bad at all, the humidity feels the same as it does back home (Cape Town). Heat wise the sun here is potent, but you don’t run out of breath as easy as you might elsewhere, but you do sweat a lot more. The air feels thicker and we’ve had to adjust to the shuttle, getting used to the speed and the way it flies.’
Team SA coach is Stewart Carson and he has been mightily impressed by this group. ‘They have surprised me because the standard is really high. So many players from countries like Nigeria, Algeria, Uganda, Ghana and Mauritius are based and play and train overseas, many of them in France. This has seen the standard of the men in particular rise over the last few years.
‘But, as Bongani says, we’re looking forward to the singles competition with a lot of confidence. Nita Scholtz is probably our best chance and there’s no reason that she can’t win the gold medal. She is in great form and doesn’t have anything to fear. Megan de Beer is another who can punch a deep hole in the competition,’ he said.
So, badminton are on the medals table, taking Team SA’s total to 51. But, don’t expect them to stop at just the one.