South Africa is eyeing a record medal haul at the 2016 Olympics, sending a strong team of 137 athletes to Brazil in an effort to write a new page in South African sporting history.
The 2016 Games get underway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Friday, August 5, with athletes from around the globe having descended on the South American country in preparation for the two-week multi-sport competition.
Team SA is determined to return home from the Olympics with 10 medals, having managed a medal tally of six in London four years ago; three gold, two silver and one bronze.
Ten medals would be the country’s best medal haul since re-admission to international sport in 1992, while it would equal the country’s best ever medal tally, which dates back to the Olympic Games of Antwerp 1920 and Helsinki 1952.
Since the end of apartheid and a return to the Olympics, the six medals in London four years ago remain the best effort from Team SA in six attempts.
Rio 2016 may just see that statistic change dramatically, as the team of athletes in various disciplines present with numerous world champions, top class youngsters and teams with great potential.
In track and field athletics alone, 39 athletes from South Africa will be aiming to gather a few pieces of gold, silver and bronze. Men’s 400m champion Wayde Van Niekerk will be the flag bearer for Team SA at the opening ceremony, and he will likely return from the games as the gold medallist in his event of choice.
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Caster Semenya is a machine at the moment, having enjoyed the best season of her career, and with the women’s 800m race almost secured when one considers the fact that she has won every major race that she has competed in this year, the 400m event could also provide the 25-year-old could achieve a second medal in Rio.
A selection of other top SA athletes have decent medal chances, with Carina Horn in with a shout for the women’s 100m, while Akani Simbine’s recent men’s 100m national record in a Hungarian race where he managed to beat Jamaica’s Asafa Powell should not be ignored.
Dominique Scott is not well known to South African audiences, but this is set to change in the coming weeks, as the 23-year-old long distance champion could impress in the 10,000m and 5,000m events. The men’s 400m hurdlers, LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks are also looking strong ahead of their events.
African Javelin champion Sunette Viljoen will be wearing the colours of South Africa in Brazil, and after finishing fourth at the 2012 Olympics in London, she will be incredibly determined to add Olympic silverware to her Commonwealth Games and African Championships gold medals.
Swimming is another of the sports at the upcoming Olympics where South Africa will be expecting to take home a few medals. Chad Le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh have aspirations to add to the medals they earned in London four years ago.
Le Clos and Van der Burgh will excite South African fans in the butterfly and breaststroke events, respectively, and they will be important contributors to a record medal haul for their country.
The swimming team at the aquatics centre will no doubt be supporting their long distance compatriots in Rio.
The current open water world champion in the 5km swim, Chad Ho, is aiming to do well in the Olympic 10km event. Alongside fellow South African Matthew Meyer, they form part of the 25-man field for the 10km race in Rio.
Rowing may produce another medal for the South Africans after a surprise gold in London, as a record five boats have qualified for Rio. Canoe ace Bridgitte Hartley will look to improve on her bronze medal from the 2012 Games.
The new sports may also be kind to South Africa, as rugby sevens and golf are introduced to the Rio event. The Blitzboks have been dominant in global sevens rugby, finishing second to the mighty Fijians this past season, and they should be expected to place on the podium.
Golf would have been a far more exciting potential for SA, but top golfers Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen will not be taking part in the Olympics due to Zika virus concerns. This leaves Jaco Van Zyl with a shot at the golf medals, as the best ranked South African amongst the selection of golfers in Rio.
The wonderful thing about the Olympics is the fact that there are always a few surprises, with little known athletes emerging and unveiling their talent at the highest level of their sport.
With that in mind, and the strong South African contingent who are currently preparing for their events in Rio, it is not beyond Team SA to return home with a record medal haul of 10 or more.
South Africa finished 23rd on the medals table at London 2012, and if they manage to achieve their 10-medal objective in Brazil, they may just find themselves amongst the 20 best teams in the Games this time around.