By Mark Etheridge
At 3.23 pm local time in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan and on the ninth and penultimate day of the 2009 World Games, South Africa finally struck paydirt.
Paydirt but not the gold that SA so desperately want. It was bronze but at this stage of the Games any medal, of any colour, was welcome and suddenly two bronze medals took their place in the SA trophy cabinet.
First the Sevens rugby team beat Argentina 17-0 in the third-fourth place play-off in front of a sizeable crowd with bagpipes and vuvazelas playing in the background.
Tries by Paul Delport, Marius Schoeman and Mpho Mbiyoza and a conversion by captain Mzwandile Stick sealed matters. This after South Africa had lost 21-7 to Fiji in the semi-final. Fiji went on to beat surprise packages Portugal 43-10 in a one-sided final.
Less than a hour after the Sevens bronze, Durban beach-boy Ryan Brennan doubled the medals tally when he took bronze in the men’s Oceanman final of the lifesaving competition,┬á held at Sizihwan Bay.
Four years ago he won bronze in Duisberg, Germany but in the malibu board race. This time it was in the lifesaving equivalent of the traditional Ironman event (swimming, cycling and running).
At the close of the rugby a streaker entertained the crowd, sprinting across the main field while talking on a cellphone but the only streak that was really impressive was Fiji having now won the Sevens title at the last three World Games.
The heavens opened in spectacular fashion just before the medal ceremony, reflecting the outpouring of relief that Team SA were at least on the medals table.
In their quarter-final match, SA had strolled past Hong Kong 39-0.
This is South Africa’s worst showing by the sevens side at three World Games, previously they had picked up silver in losing to Fiji in the final in 2001 and 2005.
But as the final try scorer Mbiyoza said: “We didn’t play well against Fiji in that semi-finals. We could have played much better.”
Captain Stick agreed. “It just wasn’t good enough. Too many missed tackles and dropped passes. It boiled down to us not being good enough in the one-on-one situation today.”
Back to the lifesaving┬á and Brennan was over the moon. “I was disappointed with my seventh spot in the board final earlier in the day because that was where I got bronze in 2005 but I thought I’d transfer that emotion to the Oceanman and just gave it my all.”
The Ocean man involves a beach start and then a 400 metre swim, 600m board paddle, an 800m ski paddle and then another sprint back up the beach.
“It was pretty tight. The Aussie (Shannon Eckstein) got away early, I wasn’t too far behind the second guy (Hugh Docherty also of Australia) and then it was a sprint for third and fourth.
“Shannon though, is in a class of his own. He’s a professional lifesaver which gives him a huge advantage over our guys, most of whom have fulltime occupations and can only train in our spare time.”
Other good showings by the SA lifesavers came in the women’s rescue tube race where Jade Antunes, Eloise van Gysen, Kim Brugman and Kendall Loots took first and Shaun Dias, Barjo van Niekerk, Don Brierly and Armand Marais finished third in the women’s equivalent. Both those events didn’t count for medals though, only certifcates.
Meanwhile, over at the Lotus Pond, the SA waterski team remained firmly in contention for honours.
Heinrich Sam and Andre de Villiers took second and third in the men’s slalom and then swopped places for the jump event. Both events see only certificates being awarded. The medals will be decided on overall performances during the games.
Wakeboarder Shaun Faccio took sixth in the final but team official Eugene Sam said it could have been a whole lot better. “If his semi-final performance had come in the final, he would have won for sure .. but he fell in the final. Still, we will definitely get a medal tomorrow.”
In dance sport it was the turn of Latin-American duo Keokantse Motsepe and Otile Mabuse but they failed to go further than the first round of 24. But there was at least some joy for Motsepe as her sister Motshegetsi is married to German dancer Timo Kulczak and they progressed to the next round.