By Mark Etheridge
in Brazzaville, Congo
The swimmers continued to keep South Africa’s medal tally ticking over at the African Games here on Thursday.
It was also a rewarding day for cycling’s first day of competition where they won gold and silver in the team trial events.
It was the penultimate night of competition for the aquatic bunch and although there was only one gold medal on the evening, there were still eight medals in total – with five silvers and two bronzes.
For a change the South African anthem only resounded around the Complexe Nautique on one occasion as Ricky Ellis won the 100m backstroke in 55.83 seconds ahead of teammate David de Villiers (55.84).
Cycling’s two medals and swimming’s eight pushed the total team tally to 78.
Jessica Choga was poolside to catch all the action.
Opening the medal collection for the day was Myles Brown who won a silver medal in the 200m men’s butterfly (1:59.28). Egypt triumphed, grabbing the gold medal in this event.
The only gold medal for the day came from Ricky Ellis in the 100m men’s backstroke who had a record time of 55:83. David de Villiers was just behind him and won the silver medal with a time of 55:84.
‘It was my first day of competition and the race was hard and very competitive but I am proud I managed to win a medal and represent my country,’ commented De Villiers.
Thursday was a day for silver medals for Team South Africa. Marlies Ross swam in a race that included Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe, the current Games record holder of the women 200m IM discipline.
Ross swam to a silver medal whilst Rene Warnes took a bronze medal in the same race.
She added: ‘It’s my first time at the African Games so I was very excited and I had to work very hard to win the silver medal. My race was good, it went well and I am happy.’
Karin Prinsloo also stood on the podium winning a silver medal in the women’s 50m freestyle event, with a record time of 25:79.
Sibani Makhanya, SA swimming coach said: ‘Team SA performed very well tonight. The competition was stiff but the swimmers gave it their all. I was mostly impressed by the mixed relay race,where the athletes pulled through amazingly.’
Etheridge reports that at the cycling, the big surprise was the silver with the South African women surprisingly being beaten by Nigeria over the 25-kilometre course.
The quartet of ‘veteran’ Lise Olivier, Heidi Dalton, Cathy Colyn and Zanele Tshoko ended up four seconds adrift of Nigeria, with eight teams entered. SA clocked 37min 16.42sec compared to Nigeria’s 37:12.19.
Said Olivier, who was individual time trial champion at the last African Games four years ago: ’That was a big surprise. The Nigerians just came from nowhere to get this gold.
‘We were watching out for teams like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Namibia but not Nigeria. They were one of the few women’s nations at the last Games and they have obviously put a lot of money and backing into women’s cycling. It’s good to see more women’s teams here.’
Olivier says the conditions made for nervous riding. ‘There was no time for warm-ups and plenty of cars on the route. On at least two occasions we were nearly wiped out by cars. Thankfully it got better for the men’s race after we had finished.’
The men’s team was made up of HP Kruger, Shaun-Nick Bester, Gustav Basson and Reynard Butler (pictured above).
They ended up clocking 29min 40sec and beating Algeria by 24sec with Rwanda third.
Said Kruger afterwards: ‘We were supposed to ride three laps of 12.5km but it was eventually shortened to two laps.
‘It was quite fast and flat but the road surface was tough and it’s surprising that none of us got punctures. The wind also picked up a bit later but we rode very well together as a team.’
Eighteen teams were entered by three never started, Eritrea, Mauritius and Mozambique. The first-mentioned side were stranded as their bikes failed to arrive from Dubai, meaning the South Africans had a far easier task to take gold.
Friday sees the individual time trial with Olivier and Dalton wearing green and gold while Butler and a yet to be decided second rider go off for the men.
OTHER SPORTS IN ACTION ON THURSDAY
Banyana Banyana played their second match of the tournament and Etheridge was at the impressive Complexe Sportif’s main stadium, scene of the Games’ opening ceremony six days previously.
Once again it played out to a stalemate and one gets the impression that a frustrated Vera Pauw was a bit relieved to come away with anything else than a defeat.
‘We only had two days rest after the Cameroon draw which is really not enough and you could see it as the players were always a bit slower to the ball. Ghana were definitely the fresher side.’
To her credit she made a few changes to the formation in the second half when she employed two wingers and two strikers and the SA team certainly gave the Ghana defence something to think about.
The introduction of the dreadlocked Silindile Ngubane for Sanah Molllo in the 72nd minute also gave the girls some fresh legs up front and she looked dangerous on a number of occasions.
The team also have keeper Andile Dlamini to thank for keeping the Ghanaians out and she was by far the busier of the two keepers.
The main threat from the West Africans came down the SA left flank and Nothando Vilakazi and veteran Noko Motlou had their hands full against a fleet-footed Ghanaian attack.
The few shots that SA were able to muster were mostly directly at the keeper and it says much for the nature of the game that SA’s best attempt on goal came in the 89th minute when, Leandra Smeda forced the keeper into a save from a header.
Refiloe Jane then went into the ref’s book and the final bit of attack saw a 90th minute corner from Motlou being saved by the keeper.
The state of the three-team pool could now be decided on Saturday when Cameroon take on Ghana. Should Cameroon win SA will go through in second place but a draw could see some heads being scratched as all three teams would have drawn.
Said Janine van Wyk, the little skipper with the big heart: ‘It was Ghana’s first game, they were fresher and they really fought for every ball. We had no time at all on the ball. And again we battled to finish off our attacks. But to take a positive out of the game, we didn’t lose and are still in the mix.’
The SA men’s and women’s teams remain unbeaten after two days action. They both played one match at the outdoor venue in the Sporte Complex on Thursday.
The men’s combo of Clinton Stemmet and Leo Williams beat Nigeria in two sets, 21-7 21-8. ‘To be honest I was very surprised at how much better we looked than Nigeria, said manager/coach Donovan Nair.
In the women’s competition Palesa Masinga and Randy Williams (no relation to Leo) overcame Senegal in a tough three-setter 19-21 21-12 15-12. ‘Our girls didn’t seem to know what hit them in the first set but really came back well to wrap things up in the next two sets,’ added Nair.
Friday sees the men taking on Senegal and the women are up against Algeria. In the men’s competition, at this stage the most likely scenario will be SA meeting Angola or Tunisia in the final, barring an upset.
Paul Schafer was the boxing side’s first ‘casualty’ when his fight against Nigeria’s Efe Ajagba was stopped due to blood, late on Wednesday night.
As manager Johan Prinsloo explained. ‘General guide that if it’s dark blood one can continue but not if it’s clear blood.’
Ajagba was the same man who stopped Schafer at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Scotland, also due to bleeding but on that occasion it was a head-butt.
Thursday wasn’t a great day in the ring as Ayabonga Sonjica (56kg) and Akani Phuzi (91kg) also both went out and Bathabile Ziqubu (51kg) was in late night first-round action. More on her tomorrow.
The little-white-ball brigade were supposed to start their code on Thursday.
But first round opponents Gabon never pitched so the SA team were given an automatic walk over.
They will now play Algeria and Djibouti on Friday.