Tokyo looms, again, We don’t know for sure in what shape of form the Olympics and Paralympics will take place in July to September and if anything 2020 taught us to take nothing for granted. What we do know is that if Tokyo 2020 +1 does go ahead, it will do so against a new-found back drop where simply taking part means as much as winning gold, silver or bronze. Perhaps that’s what the Olympics founder, Baron De Coubertin, would have wanted.
If we rewind nearly a year we know that SASCOC, who are responsible for the team delivery of Team SA to the Olympics and Paralympics, announced that the estimated side for the squad would be 228 athletes across 25 different sporting codes. That would have been an increase on 2016 when Team SA were represented by 136 athletes to the Olympics and 45 to the Paralympics.
South Africa has a chance to continue the goodwill that the Springboks created through their 2019 Rugby World Cup triumph and Team SA are likely to be the second choice favourite of the local fans. It would make sense for South Africa to use the Tokyo Games as a platform that extends wider than sport. Perhaps now, just for 2021, the right thing to do is go to the Olympics less concerned about where they stand on the final medals table, as opposed to the impact and impression the country leaves as ambassadors.
It would be unrealistic to expect Team SA to return from the Tokyo Olympics with a bagful of medals. I say this too because Caster Semenya, for one, would be a virtual certainty to win 800m gold, but her fate has been sealed in boardrooms and courtrooms, rather than on the track. But, South Africans are also only being given access to the Covid-19 vaccine in the second quarter of 2021 – as opposed to dozens of other countries who will have a headstart on them and will be able to train and prepare better than South Africans will be able to do. This is a huge negative for Team SA’s prospects.
But, there will be success and in pulling the curtain down on 2020, there are some positive thoughts for Tokyo as we open it on 2021.
Caster Semenya. The more they knock her, the more she rises. No athlete has been as manipulated and ‘bullied’ over the past 11 years than Semenya. Latest indications are that she won’t be able to defend her 800m title in Tokyo and might have to run the 200 metres. World Athletics and all the ‘decision makers’ should hang their heads in shame at their treatment of the South African superstar.
Wayde van Niekerk needs to make an exclamation mark statement in 2021. Something along the lines of ‘I’m back!’ His 2020 was reduced to a couple of low-key events but 2021 will be the year where the world sees whether or not he has the capability of going low 43 seconds in the 400m, after recovering from that career-threatening knee injury in 2017. He’s now 28 has lost three years of his career at a time when he seemed destined to take over Usain Bolt’s position as track and field’s brightest star.
Tatjana Schoenmaker will have just turned 24 when Tokyo comes round. She’s the Commonwealth Games 100 and 200m breaststroke champion and with times of 1:06.32 and 2:21.79 she’s right in the mix for medals in both events in Tokyo. Hindsight might prove that the year’s postponement could be to her advantage as it will have allowed to strengthen up and she should be in her prime in Tokyo.
Chad le Clos recorded one of the great Olympic upsets when he dethroned Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly at London 2012. His 2016 Olympics came at the wrong time for him, with a great deal of personal stuff to deal with, and although he’s still only 28, it feels like he’s been around for ever. He’s a born racer though and won’t be fazed that his 1:52.96 best in the 200m butterfly was set in 2012. I’d like to see him launch an assault on the 200m freestyle in Tokyo.
Cheslin Kolbe. What a return to Tokyo it would be for the humble rugby superstar, whose try against England in the 2019 World Cup final proved to be the final nail in the England coffin. Kolbe was part of the Team SA Sevens men’s team which earned bronze at the 2016 Olympics. At the time I wrote that it wasn’t a bronze won but a gold or silver lost. It was an unpopular view. Kolbe can virtually choose whether he wants to play for the 15-man Boks against the British & Irish Lions in 2021, or be part of Team SA in Tokyo. It seems that he has chosen the Lions experience, but he’d add so much to Team SA’s cause in Tokyo if he has second thoughts.
Among the goodbyes we said in 2020 were to two judokas – Preston Davids and Earl Blake – and 2008 Olympic gymnast Odette Richard. We also bade a premature farewell to former Bafana and Sundowns defender Anele Ngcongca and Motjeka Madisha (car accidents). Covid-19 claimed the life of 38-year-old commentator Kaunda Ntjuna, while administrators and coaches like Monde Tabata (rugby), Ben Dladla (cricket), Ronnie Pillay (football) and Stan Henkeman (transplant sports) are no longer with us.