Our Olympic medallists (since 1992)
Elana Meyer, 10 000m silver
Meyer went to Barcelona as the golden girl of South African athletics. The Ethiopian Derartu Tulu was the main obstacle in the chase for the gold medal. The Kenyan Hellen Kimaiyo won the first heat in 31min 58.63sec, while Meyer looked comfortable in finishing a distant second to Tulu in their heat, Meyer timing 32:05.45. The final itself was on a balmy Friday evening, 7 August 1992, in the Barcelona Olympic Stadium. Meyer hit the front early on in the 25-lap final and one-by-one her rivals dropped off the pace. All except for Tulu, who stuck to Meyer’s heels. When it came down to the kick for home, the Ethiopian lengthened her stride and swept past the South African, leaving Meyer to settle for a creditable second, and the silver medal, in 31:11.75.
Pietie Norval and Wayne Ferreira, silver
The Australian pair of John Fitzgerald and Todd Woodbridge went into the men’s tennis doubles event as favourites and top seeds, while Norval and Ferreira were seeded four. The South Africans came through their first three matches in the bottom half of the draw with the loss of just one set. In the semi-finals they beat the unseeded Goran Ivanisevic and Goran Prpic in five sets and faced the sixth-seeded Germans of Boris Becker and Michael Stich in then final. It was Becker and Stich who played the big point better, going on to take the gold medal in four sets, 7-6 4-6 7-6 6-3.
Penny Heyns, double gold
Heyns was South Africa’s best hope for a first Olympic gold medal in 44 years and the Nebraska (US)-based swimmer arrived in Atlanta brimful of confidence, knowing the Australian Samantha Riley was the big danger. Heyns however made her intentions known by breaking the world 100m breaststroke record in the heats. In the final Heyns turned first and dug dig deep as the American starlet Amanda Beard closed the gap. Heyns held on to win in 1:07.73, just ahead of Beard (1:08.09), with Riley well third. In the 200m breaststroke, Heyns won the semi-final and in the final a familiar pattern unfolded; the South African led all the way, before Beard came to challenge. Again, Beard fell short as Heyns took her second gold in 2:25.41.
Marianne Kriel, bronze
Kriel, who along with boxer Fana Tawala were the team ‘captains’, felt the positive energy coming from the Heyns success and used it to great effect in the women’s 100m backstroke. She won her heat in the third fastest time of all the qualifiers, and followed that up by maintaining her form in the final. Kriel’s 1:02.12 in the final was enough to secure her a bronze medal, behind Americans Beth Botsford and Whitney Hedgepeth.
Josia Thugwane, gold
In the lottery that is the men’s marathon, Thugwane, an outsider, won a dramatic race in one of the closest finishes ever. The race started with a field of 124. Some 13 runners failed to complete the 42.2km, but Thugwane showed perfect judgement. He held off a sprinting Korean Lee-Bong Ju down the final straight to win in 2hr 12min 36sec, three second clear of the silver medallist and only eight seconds ahead of the third-placed finisher. Lawrence Peu faded to 27th (2:18:09) and the best fancied of the South Africans, Gert Thys, was 33rd in 2:18:55.
Hezekiel Sepeng, silver
The quality of the 800m final could be seen in that Sepeng’s time of 1min 42.74sec bettered the 12-year-old Olympic record of Joaquim Cruz’s 1:43.00. Sepeng ran one of the races of his life but was eventually touched off by Vebjorn Nadal, of Norway, who crossed the line in 1:45.30.
Hestrie Cloete and Terence Parkin, silver
Cloete was desperately unlucky not to pick up the gold medal, failing by a centimetre. She cleared a season’s best 2.01m, the same height as the Russian Yelena Yelesina, but the South African was beaten for gold in the countback. The deaf Parkin was competing in his first able-bodied Games at the age of 20. He surprised all and sundry when winning the silver medal. While the final itself never looked as though it would result in him winning gold, he held on with sheer guts to finish second in 2:12.50. The Italian Domenico Fioravanti timed 2:10.87 to claim gold.
Llewellyn Herbert, bronze
Llewellyn Herbert was one of the favourites to pick up the gold, but had a poor lane in the final. Still, the South African produced a fast finish, but was still unable to peg back the two in front of him, the American Angelo Taylor winning in 47.50 and Herbert taking bronze in 47.81. Frantz Kruger also collected a bronze, in the men’s discus. He hurled it 68.19m, some 31cm off the silver but 1.11m away from the gold. Penny Heyns was in the final phase of her career and won the bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke, before failing to qualify for the semi-finals of the 200m, in the last race she swam.
Roland Schoeman, gold, silver and bronze
The Awesome Foursome of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling produced one of the indelible images of the 2004 Games when they shocked the Netherlands, the United States and Australia in the final of the 4x100m freestyle. The South Africans broke the world record and lowered it to 3:13.17. Schoeman himself went on to become the most successful of any South African at a single Olympics, adding a silver (the men’s 100m freestyle) and bronze in the men’s 50m freestyle.
Hestrie Cloete, two silvers and a bronze
Hestrie Cloete claimed her second successive silver medal, this time leaping 2.02m, but was out-jumped by the Russian Yelena Slesarenko, who upped the Olympic record to 2.06m. Mbulaeni Mulaudzi had qualified strongly for the men’s 800m final but his 1:44.61 was only good enough for the silver. Rowing’s Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente claimed the men’s coxless pairs bronze medal.
Godfrey Mokoena, silver
It was left to Godfrey Mokoena, who qualified for the final with a leap of 8.14m in the men’s long jump, to save South Africa from embarrassment. Mokoena leapt to 8.24m in the final, which was enough to see him take home the silver medal.
Team South Africa had its best return since re-admission to the Olympic family in 1992 when they won six medals in London.
Cameron van der Burgh, gold
He got the medal campaign off to a flying start when he stroked his way to gold in the 100-metre breaststroke final. His gold was just reward from a build-up which had seen him suffer the disappointment of having many of his medals stolen from his Pretoria home as well as the loss of close friend and fellow breaststroker Dale Alexander Oen, following a heart attack while training in the United States.
Chad le Clos, gold and silver
Van der Burgh’s gold was followed two days later by new kid on the block, Chad le Clos who stormed to an eye-opening win in the 200m butterfly final, beating the legendary Michael Phelps in the process. Le Clos also won silver in the 100m butterfly final, as Phelps reversed the roles.
Sizwe Ndlovu, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and James Thompson, gold
One of the surprise results came in the rowing at Eton Downs where the coxless lightweight men’s fours combination pulled their way to gold for a memorable result in what is often considered a cinderella code in South Africa. Ndlovu, Brittain, Smith and Thompson became instant heroes overnight and will hopefully encourage more future rowing stars.
Bridgitte Hartley, bronze
Hartley, who made huge sacrifices in her build-up to the Games by spending large chunks of time training at faraway locations, took bronze in the K1 500m sprint for South Africa’s first canoeing medal at the Olympics.
Caster Semenya, silver
Semenya, a World Championship gold medallist in 2009 and a silver medallist in the 2011 World Championships, also ended second in London, with a powerful finishing effort after having lagged behind for much of the 800m final.