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Team SA flag bearers named at send-off banquet

Team South Africa was given a rousing send-off on their way to the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics at a glittering banquet held at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg on Tuesday night. There was a buzz of excitement, expectation, and electricity in the air as they were given their final good wishes ahead of the Games.

The gala dinner coincided with the celebration of 50 days to go to the Paralympic Games, and 17 days to go to the Olympics. The Olympics will be held in the French capital from 26 July to 11 August, followed by the Paralympics a few weeks later, which will be held from 28 August to 8 September.

The highlight of the evening was the announcement of the flag bearers for both the Olympics and the Paralympic Games. They are Akani Simbine and Caitlin Rooskrantz (Olympics) and Mpumelelo Mhlongo and Kathrine (Kat) Swanepoel (Paralympics). All of the athletes were part of the Tokyo 2020 Games (held in 2021 due to Covid-19).

About the Flag Bearers:

Akani Simbine

Simbine has added his name to the list of great South African sportsmen and women over the years. Now aged 30, he will be attending his third Olympics, having reached the final of the men’s 100m at both the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Games, where he finished fourth and fifth, respectively. He is the first South African to make the 100m finals at an Olympic Games.

He holds the national record of 9.84 seconds and has won gold at championships including the Commonwealth Games, African Championships, and is a six-time South African 100m champion and a nine-time winner on the Diamond League circuit.

Simbine has qualified for the 100 metres individual event. He has attended two Olympic Games for Team SA, his first being Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. He is also a member of the 4x100m men’s relay team, which has also qualified for the Olympic Games. Simbine has finished inside the top five in the last four major championship 100m races, including World Championships, African Championships, Commonwealth, and Summer Olympic Games.

Caitlin Rooskrantz

Rooskrantz, still only 22, will be at her second Olympics. As a teenager in Tokyo, she and Naveen Daries became the first female gymnasts of colour to represent Team SA at an Olympics. Having won bronze in the uneven bars at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Rooskrantz won two gold medals at the 2024 South African Championships.

Some of her personal achievements include being awarded Gymnastics South Africa Women’s Artistic Gymnast of the Year for 2022, and University of Johannesburg Sports Awards Age Group Sportswoman of the Year and Student-Athlete of the Year in 2022.

Mpumelelo Mhlongo

Paralympian Mpumelelo Mhlongo is a T44 100m sprinter and long jumper. He is the winner of Athletics South Africa’s Sportsman of the Year 2024 with Disability. He won the men’s 100m T44 at the 2023 and 2024 Para Athletics World Championships, where he broke the T44 200m World Record and set the T44 200m, 100m, and long jump Para Athletics Games records. His aim is to beat his own world records in the 100m and long jump when he participates in the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

Kat Swanepoel

Swanepoel is a versatile swimmer competing in the SM5 200m Individual Medley, S5 50m backstroke, 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, SB4 100m breaststroke, and S14 400m freestyle. She first represented SA in Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Rugby and received National Colours in Wheelchair Rugby. She started her professional swimming career in 2019. Some of her personal achievements include: finishing 4th in the S4 50m backstroke at the 2021 Tokyo Games by a margin of 0.5 seconds; winning silver in the SM4 150m Individual Medley and bronze in the S4 50m backstroke at the 2022 Madeira World Championships; and winning gold in the SM4 150m Individual Medley, gold in the S4 50m backstroke, and silver in the SB3 50m breaststroke at the 2023 Manchester World Swimming Championships.

Swanepoel has been nominated twice for Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability at the SA Sports Awards in 2023 and 2024.

SASCOC CEO, Nozipho Jafta, had this to say: “Congratulations to the four athletes who have the honour of being flag bearers for Team SA in Paris, where they will be in full view at the opening ceremony of the respective Games – watched all over the world. It is indeed a moment that celebrates our hashtag of ‘For My Country’.”

On wishing all of the athletes well on their way, the President of SASCOC, the governing body delivering Team South Africa to the Olympics and Paralympics, Barry Hendricks, was full of enthusiasm and encouragement. “The last Olympics and Paralympics were held in 2021, postponed a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They were held in an understandably and necessarily confined environment, but you can feel the energy this time around. There is such a buzz around the whole Games, and Team South Africa is ready and committed to playing its full part in its success.

“I want to thank the SASCOC Board, our sponsors and partners, and the Department of Sport, Art, and Culture for all their assistance and input so far. To the athletes, remember that you are ambassadors for our country. Importantly, for many, it will be the highlight of your careers, so remember to soak it all in, make new friends, and experience different cultures. These are life experiences. Well done to all those who have been selected,” Hendricks added.