By GARY LEMKE in Tokyo
A day that started with an Olympic gold medal and a world record couldn’t get any better, right? Wrong?
When Tatjana Schoenmaker arrived back at the athletes village after 10pm on Friday night, the entire Team SA was present to welcome her. “Shosholoza!” rang out while athletes formed a guard of honour for the first Olympic gold medallist of these Tokyo Games. Team SA’s Chef de Mission Patience Shikwambaba (pictured) was at the forefront of the initiative to unite the team’s celebration of Schoenmaker.
Athletes from other countries – in the village Australia is directly opposite the Team SA entrance and the USA to the left – came out in the dark with their phones to see what the fuss was about. Images and memories that will last a lifetime.
And that’s not all. The 24-year-old Schoenmaker, who had earlier won the women’s 200m breaststroke gold, received a call from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa congratulating her on her achievement.
“Congratulations, you have lifted the country, we are all in a good mood. Congratulations on your unbelievable effort,” President Ramaphosa told her.
“when i saw your performance in your first race (the women’s 100m breaststroke silver medal) I knew you were keeping something in store.”
Schoenmaker, exhausted after a dream day, replied, “I’m glad you believed in me!”
President Ramaphosa continued. “It was unbelievable. We honour you, thank you. We’re delighted to have seen this unbelievable performance. A world record? You smashed it!”
Schoemaker replied, “it’s such an honour to speak to you, Mr President!”
Then the attention turned to Schoenmaker’s coach, Rocco Meiring. “Rocco, well done and I congratulate you to. You did unbelievable work preparing her to the level she is at … the best in the world, there’s no question about it. To have won an Olympic gold and achieved a world record, congratulations to you!”
It was that kind of day. Bring on the rest of the Games.
Photo: Raymond Herbst