By Mark Etheridge
While an Olympic medal may be won by one person, in most cases there’s a team behind the scenes, or even a special person in particular.
So as Henri Schoeman raced to South Africa’s first ever Olympic triathlon medal on the Rio beachfront on Thursday, he might just have heard an excited squeal from the African continent.
That came from his girlfriend of five years, Franzel Allen, back in KwaZulu-Natal… undoubtedly one of his biggest fans who has stuck with him through thick and thin, through good times and bad.
So excited was Allen after Schoeman’s bronze medal that she went so far as to wear one of his tri-suits to her work as a commercial insurance broker on Friday morning.
She took time out to share just what it’s like dating an Olympic medallist and what the journey has been like to reach that podium.
‘I’m absolutely elated for him, there is no one on earth who deserves this more… although I might be biased￼
‘This achievement has however rendered me speechless and I have so much love and pride in my heart for him.
Henri is a very special guy, he has a quiet strength that demands to be heard and his dedication to his career is unshakeable. He is so extremely humble and I think that can very well be his biggest appeal.
‘When we started dating back in 2011, I thought he was the best in the world when he came fourth in a BSG race, little did I know…
‘With the years however came the experience. I saw every sacrifice, injury, disappointment and victory and I saw him dust it off and get back on his bike, put his head down and carry on.’
Sacrifices there were aplenty and as the saying goes ‘when days are dark friends are few’.
‘I saw him lose friends and get frowned upon because he can’t go to parties and events every other day. His idea of a great night, is chilling with his legs up and very few people understand why he actually needs to do that.
‘An Olympic medal is something no one can ever take away from him and he has worked tirelessly for it.
‘This will open every door that he has ever knocked on, however this time he will not be turned away. He has proven himself and proved to himself that he has got what it takes to be the best and he will undoubtedly be the best and leave a legacy like no other.
‘He is the nicest guy on earth and I am so lucky to have someone so special to share my life with. I’m so extremely proud of him and can’t wait to give him the biggest congratulatory kiss and hug! Unfortunately that will only be in middle September when I meet up with him in Cozumel for world champs.’
It wasn’t only Allen who was over the moon with delight. Henri’s now the second Olympian in the Schoeman family as older brother Riaan represented Team South Africa in the swimming pool at the last Olympics in London.
He says: ‘This is a dream come true for Henri, he has overcome so many challenges to get to this point in his career.
‘He has blown us all away and made the country incredibly proud, the timing for his break-out performance couldn’t have been any better and I’m sure this is just the beginning of greater things to come.’