Team South Africa wrapped up their Commonwealth Games campaign by finishing sixth on the overall table, with 13 gold, 11 silver and 13 bronze medals. GARY LEMKE gives his verdict as the curtain came down on the Gold Coast.
THE TOP 10 PERFORMERS
1. Caster Semenya (800, 1500m)
There’s little doubt to even the most untrained eye that the 27-year-old is the most irresistible force in world athletics. She is, to put it bluntly, unbeatable. Her only opposition is the clock and in winning two gold medals, the 800 and 1500m, Semenya broke the Games record in both. She wasn’t pushed to the line in either, and in fact, the sight of her looking to the stands, to where her coach was sitting, for a couple of seconds while she was running her 800m heat, said it all. She’s an athlete at the top of her game. Again, the Australian media attempted to throw a cloud over her achievements by raising THAT old issue. Yawn. Get over it and enjoy an athlete at the peak of her powers. All that’s left now is for her to chase down the existing world records. We will not see another athlete like this for many years to come.
2. Cameron van der Burgh (50m, 100m breaststroke, 4x100m medley)
Perhaps this high ranking will surprise people. Van der Burgh won the 50m breaststroke gold medal, retaining the title from Glasgow 2014. In doing so he beat Adam Peaty. The 23-year-old Brit is the world record holder, world champion, Olympic 100m champion and hadn’t been beaten in a final for four years. It was the biggest upset in the swimming pool at these Games. Van der Burgh, who went on to get a bronze in the 4x100m medley relay, had vowed to finish his Games career on a high and he’d been consistent in saying that the race, under the open-air conditions at night, would not be ‘world record fast’. It would be ‘a racer’s race’. And he outraced Peaty by 0.04 seconds, touching in 26.58. Afterwards, Peaty said he ‘hadn’t been 100%, probably 90, 95%’. Cry me a river. Van der Burgh was the team leader out of the water and he put a few years of Peaty hurt behind him to win when it counted.
3. Tatjana Schoenmaker (100m, 200m breaststroke)
When I asked Schoenmaker what it felt like to be considered a ‘big fish’ in women’s swimming, she said she didn’t see herself as one, and that she would still have to watch her back at domestic level ‘because there are so many good breaststrokers coming through’. The 20-year-old doesn’t know how good she is – or that she stands on the brink of superstardom. In winning the 100m and 200m breaststroke, she broke the South African record in both, and she did the same thing in the 50m, where she placed fourth. Her favourite event is the 200m and she’s now ranked No2 in the world. Her 100m gold placed her fourth in the world. Schoenmaker is a huge talent and will get significantly quicker. She lowered two of the great Penny Heyns’ personal bests and then modestly said that ‘Penny produced those times when not wearing goggles, so imagine how good she was’. Heyns was good, in fact, one of the breaststroke legends. Shoenmaker is just starting her journey and she’s got genuine superstardom written all over her.
4. Chad le Clos (50m, 100m, 200m butterfly, 100m freestyle, 4x100m medley)
What more can be said about the 25-year-old competing in his third Commonwealth Games and who has now collected 17 medals, one behind Australian shooter Phillip Adams’ all-time best. Le Clos will have to wait for Birmingham 2022 to surge past that tally and put it out of reach of anyone for decades to come. Le Clos picked up three gold medals, a silver and a bronze and paid the price for swimming two finals inside 20 minutes when tiring in the 200m freestyle final. I’ve slotted Le Clos in at No4 for a number of reasons. One is that he’s a victim of his own brilliance. The 100/200m butterfly ‘double’ was, how should we say… expected, and he even broke the Games record in the 100m (50.65). He might forgive me for saying that he was gifted the 50m butterfly when favourite Ben Proud was disqualified in the heats and played no part in the final; he had comfortably beat Le Clos in that race. But, for me the 100m freestyle final and the 100m butterfly leg in the 4x100m medley relay – efforts which secured ‘only’ a silver and a bronze – were his best performances of the Games. He was just caught by the flying Scotsman, Duncan Scott, but finished ahead of Australia’s Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers and Cameron McEvoy. Le Clos is now regarded as one of the best 100m freestyle sprinters in the world. And, that was a huge statement for him to make in front of the Aussies, in their pool, in an event they are used to dominating over the years.
5. Akani Simbine (100m, 4x100m)
Two years ago in Rio, I had slotted Simbine in as high as No3 on my ratings, despite being a non-medallist. I argued that he was the future of men’s sprinting and the man capable of taking gold at Tokyo 2020 given Usain Bolt wouldn’t be there. Sure I took flak, but Simbine continues to grow in front of our very eyes. He won the 100m gold medal, pulling home countryman Henricho Bruintjies for a famous South African 1-2, with Yohan Blake in third. What stops me from ranking Simbine’s gold higher than No5 on this list is because of the quality of the field – and the time. In finishing fifth in the Rio Olympics, Simbine had clocked 9.94; here on the Gold Coast he claimed gold in 10.03, with Bruintjies taking silver in 10.17 and Blake the bronze in 10.19. Despite the retirement of Bolt, Simbine will know that in Tokyo he’s going to have to be churning out those sub-10 second times, perhaps even in the semi-final to qualify for the final. Obviously, he can’t do much more than win the race and take the gold, which he did. He re-appeared as the anchor in the 4x100m men’s relay and took South Africa from out of the medals to a silver, going past Blake as though the Jamaican was looking for parking.
6. Henri Schoeman (triathlon)
While it’s not as important as the Olympics, the entire team gets a lift when that first gold medal goes into the bank. It has a calming effect, settles the squad’s nerves in the athletes village and inspires many to go out and do the same for themselves and for South Africa. Which is why Schoeman’s opening day gold was so welcome, and significant. Before the event it was countryman Richard Murray who the bookies had chalked up as the medal candidate, but on the day Schoeman was magnificent. He stuck like glue to the front men after coming off the swim, onto the bike and then at the start of the run he made a break and never looked like being caught. It might have surprised some people but not this 26-year-old. He was 16th in Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games, but won bronze at the Rio Olympics. Gold here on the Gold Coast has cemented his credentials and he’ll be another South African with his sights set on Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.
7. Luvo Manyonga (long jump)
A leap of 8.37m had given him the silver medal at the Rio Olympics, but the 27-year-old is starting to make distances like that seem as though he’s stepping over a pool of water in the middle of the road. Manyonga took the lead in the final with a jump of 8.35m, but just as an exclamation mark he produced an 8.41m on his sixth and final jump. That became an official Games record and with Ruswahl Samaai (8.22m) taking the bronze, we saw yet another two South African brothers in arms celebrating in front of the crowd. Manyonga has serious BMT; the tougher it gets and the bigger the stage the more he revels in it. Given what he has overcome to be at this stage of his life, he’s cashing in on a second chance. It’s an unpredictable discipline but Manyonga is becoming a serial winner. He has spoken of breaking Mike Powell’s formidable world record of 8.95m. It was established 27 years ago – in Tokyo. Perhaps the planets are getting aligned for Manyonga to break that record… at Tokyo 2020.
8. Martin Erasmus (97kg freestyle wrestling)
Martin Who? Wrestling? Erasmus is a car parts salesman in Brakpan, and 97kg of solid prime beef. He manhandled India’s Mausam Khatri in winning the final and in the process he became the first South African to win a wrestling gold in 60 years. Like boxing, wrestling used to be a consistent conveyer belt for medals before South Africa was isolated, but in the post-apartheid era, big performances and medals have dried up in those two codes. His gold medal – as well as Hanru Botha’s 74kg silver – will do wonders for wrestling as a federation in South Africa, for now they can go with their cupped hands to ask for funds, which can help the likes of Erasmus and Botha going forward. Or, perhaps the federation should just send Erasmus himself to knock on the door of the fund distributors…
9. Jonathan Ntutu (athletics, T12 100m)
Yet another South African 1-2 as Ntutu (11.02) led home Hilton Langenhoven, whose 11.27 for silver was a season’s best for him. The downside, if that term can be used, is that there were ‘only’ four athletes lining up in the final, so gold and silver was widely predicted. Both are close off the track as well and are popular figures in the athletes village. Ntutu doesn’t lack for confidence; he has a ‘Usain Bolt’ preparation when he’s getting ready for the blocks, but he backs up his confidence by producing the good in the race itself!
10. Alan Hatherley (mountain bike cross-country)
Cycling produced two bronze medallists at these Games – with Clint Hendricks also sprinting to third place at the end of the men’s road race. It’s tough determining which of the two would claim the 10th spot on this list but Hatherley just edges it. He broke his arm in February and was in a race against time to get fit. In the race itself, it quickly sorted itself out into a three-man lead group of New Zealand’s Sam Gaze and Anton Cooper, and Hatherley, who put plenty daylight between themselves and the rest. On a tough course Hatherley refused to be broken and the 22-year-old showed true grit to go with the deep reservoir of talent that he possesses to pick up the country’s first-ever Games medal in this event.
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Nicolene Neal and Colleen Piketh were leading 13-5 with five ends to go in their match for lawn bowls gold against Malaysia in the women’s pairs. Agonisingly, that lead started to get eaten into, and against all odds Malaysia found themselves two shots up with one end left. South Africa could only draw one shot and went down 15-14, the gold medal slipping out of their hands. There was disbelief in the crowd and afterwards, both South Africans were wiping away a tear. ‘It’s the high… and then the low… and we all know that women are emotional,’ said Neal.
ALL THE MEDALLISTS
Gold: Akani Simbine (100m), Luvo Manyonga (long jump), Jonathan Ntutu (T12 100m), Caster Semenya (800m, 1500m), Chad le Clos (50m, 100m, 200m butterfly), Cameron van der Burgh (50m breaststroke), Tatjana Schoenmaker (100m, 200m breaststroke), Henri Schoeman (triathlon), Martin Erasmus (97kg freestyle)
Silver: Henricho Bruintjies (100m), Team SA (4x100m men), Hilton Langenhoven (T12 100m), Dyan Buis (T38 100m), Women’s Fours bowls, Women’s Pairs bowls, Mixed B2/B3 Pairs bowls, Chad le Clos (100m freestyle), Brad Tandy (50m freestyle), Christian Sadie (50m S7 freestyle), Hanru Botha (74kg freestyle wrestling)
Bronze: Reinhardt Hamman (F38 shot put), Ruswahl Samaai (long jump), Charl du Toit (T38 100m), Wenda Nel (400m hurdles), Sunette Viljoen (javelin), Alan Hatherly (mountain biking cross-country), Clint Hendricks (men’s road race), Open B6/B7/B8 Triples bowls, Colleen Piketh (women’s singles bowls), Cameron van der Burgh (100m breaststroke), Team SA 4x100m medley relay, Ryan Coetzee (50m butterfly), Mona Pretorius (weightlifting 53kg)
*SA brought 17 para-athletes to these Games, 10 of whom won a medal.
CODES TO WIN MEDALS
14 – Athletics
12 – Swimming
5 – Bowls
2 – Cycling, Wrestling
1 – Triathlon, Weightlifting
‘No, it was not much of a shock. Not for me, my coach and my team. I knew I had to run the perfect race to come out on top, and that I had to put together my race and if I had a clean first 30 metres and then 60m. So, maybe for others it was a shocker, but not for me, my coach or my team.’ Akani Simbine on winning 100m gold, leaving Yohan Blake in third place.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT …
It’s probably unfair to single out any one team, or individual, so we won’t. But, we need to talk about a couple of things. What has happened to our amateur boxing? Again, only two representatives and again, no tangible reward for their efforts. LJ van Zyl, the 32-year-old 400m hurdles veteran, failed to qualify for the heats. It is not for the first time he disappointed on the big stage and perhaps this was his last hurrah. South Africa’s men’s hockey team? Beaten 4-2 by Scotland, 4-0 by Australia, 6-0 by New Zealand and 3-2 by Wales to finish 10th, the only win came against Canada (2-0). Serious questions have to be asked and proper answers must be produced for the game to move forward. There’s too big a disconnect from schoolboy, to club, to provincial to international level. A medal was expected from our men’s Sevens, given their status on the World Series. They reached the semi-finals by beating Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Scotland but defeats to Fiji and then England saw them go home empty-handed.
9 April. When Team SA delivered four gold medals on one of the greatest nights in South African sporting history. At 9.07pm (local time) Cameron van der Burgh won 50m breaststroke gold. At 9.12pm Tatjana Schoenmaker won 100m breaststroke gold. At 9.59pm Chad le Clos won 100m butterfly gold. At 10.15 Akani Simbini won the 100m track sprint. Boom!
THE TRYING GAMES
Weightlifter Mona Pretorius was competing in her fourth Comonwealth Games after debuting at Melbourne in 2006, where she finished fourth after delivering two personal bests. Injury wrecked her Delhi 2010 chances and a blow-out came at Glasgow 2014‚ but at the Gold Coast, the 29-year-old produced a 91kg snatch and 115kg clean and jerk — each 7kg better than she’d managed before — for a total of 206 behind Canada’s Maude Charron‚ who won with a 220kg Games record.
THE UNSEEN GOLD
Behind every successful team there’s the support staff and Team SA sent a squad that handled the logistics with aplomb. The physios and medical staff did their jobs to perfection, while the logistics of sorting out travel arrangements and ‘special requests’ went off well as the men behind the scenes played a full role in Team SA’s success. And, whoever was involved in the team kit – Natalie du Toit and the athletes’ commission? – take a bow. After the embarrassments of previous Commonwealth and Olympic Games, Mzansi’s athletes looked the part, proving that it’s the small things that help complete the big picture.
PLAYING AWAY FROM HOME
Many athletes turned to Tinder to get rid of excess energy while they were at the Games. Northern Irish triathlete James Edgar’s profile said he ‘can go all night long’, while others made similar promises. There were a couple of South Africans with active profiles, one asking, ’is 69 Down Under called a 96?’ while another reckoned he wanted to meet ‘some wild troopers’.
Photo: Caster Semenya by Wessel Oosthuizen