Strong SA contingent intent on big Commonwealth medals haul
Team South Africa is raring to go at the Games in Birmingham this week.
Four years ago, Team South Africa concluded the Commonwealth Games sixth on the overall table of 71 teams. Four years later, the South Africans are keen to improve on that.
In 2018 they won 37 medals — 18 gold, 11 silver and 13 bronze.
To improve that haul in the quadrennial showpiece, which features former British Empire colonies, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) has selected a strong contingent.
Starting on 28 July, the Games have sports such as para athletics, beach volleyball, boxing, cricket, cycling, gymnastics, hockey, judo, lawn bowls, netball, para lawn bowls, swimming, para swimming, table tennis, wheelchair basketball, triathlon, para triathlon, rugby sevens and weightlifting.
“To us, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games [presents] an opportunity for those athletes with Olympic ambitions to stake their claim for Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028,” said Sascoc CEO Nozipho Jafta at the team announcement.
“My heart bursts with pride when I look at the composition of Team SA that is going to Birmingham. The 2022 Games will have the largest-ever female and para sport programme in history and Team SA will contribute significantly to this.”
South Africa’s top medal prospect is Tatjana Schoenmaker. The 25-year-old swimmer made a splash at the Tokyo Olympics with a 200m breaststroke gold medal and a world record. She also bagged silver in the 100m breaststroke.
In Birmingham, the woman from Tshwane will be out to further her legacy as one of the best swimmers South Africa has produced. It was on this stage in 2018 that she showed her brilliance by bagging gold in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events.
Saying that preparations for the Tokyo Games took their toll on her, she opted against competing at the recent World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“I had to make a decision which one [to compete in]. For me, Commonwealth will give me better preparation [time]. It will be my first time racing internationally again,” Schoenmaker recently told ESPN.
While the likes of 18-year-old Pieter Coetzee, along with swimmers such as Erin Gallagher, will be looking to make their mark at the Games, the spotlight will also be on veteran swimmer Chad le Clos. The decorated Olympian is on the cusp of Commonwealth Games history.
He needs one more medal to match Australian Phillip Adams and Englishman Michael Gault as the most decorated Commonwealth Games athletes of all time. The 30-year-old currently has seven gold, three silver and seven bronze medals.
Another medal prospect for Team SA in the water will be teenager Matthew Sates. The 18-year-old made a clean sweep of golds in each of his nine events at the Mare Nostrum series in Europe during May.
Despite being a global powerhouse in rugby sevens, South Africa’s men have won gold just once at these Games. That came in 2014, while they got bronze in 2002 and 2010.
In 2022, the team includes players who starred for their franchises in the United Rugby Championship. They include sevens veterans Ruhan Nel and Seabelo Senatla.
The South Africans, who lead the World Rugby Sevens Series, will have to overcome the always powerful New Zealand. In 2018 the New Zealanders sealed a memorable double gold — with the women’s side winning the inaugural tournament.
South Africa’s women face an uphill battle for a medal, with Australia and New Zealand leading predictions for podium finishes. However, the experience will be invaluable for Team SA — who so far haven’t played nearly as much international rugby as the other nations’ women.
The South African men are in Pool B, alongside Scotland, Tonga and Malaysia, for the tournament — which is to be played from 29 to 31 July. SA’s women are grouped with Australia, Fiji and Scotland.
South Africa’s women cricketers are still reeling from the shock retirement of belligerent batter Lizelle Lee.
However, the team — which is currently playing against fellow Group B side England in a T20 series — is not letting the sudden loss of one of their best willow-wielders bother them.
“I try to stay away from everything. The off-field stuff has nothing to do with the players individually,” said stand-in skipper Suné Luus, who has had the armband since the long-term injury to regular skipper Dané van Niekerk.
“Everyone is trying to stay in their lane, have a positive mindset and focus on cricket.”
The team, knocked out in the semifinals of the 2022 50-over World Cup by the English, kick off their medal quest at the inaugural 20-over tournament with a clash against New Zealand on 30 July. England follow, with Sri Lanka the final group opponent for coach Hilton Moreeng’s charges.
The top two countries from the group will progress to the semifinals. Group A consists of Australia, India, Pakistan and Barbados.
Though it’s the first time women’s cricket has featured at the Commonwealth Games, the men played the 50-over format at the 1998 games — and won gold. It was the last time the sport featured at the games.
Team SA’s netballers, captained by experienced Bongi Msomi, have a strong squad of 12 with key members being Phumza Maweni and Lenize Potgieter.
The Games will sharpen the team as it prepares to host the 2023 Netball World Cup. The South Africans were fourth at the 2019 World Cup and have never won it. They finished fifth at the 2018 Games.
Dorette Badenhorst’s side are in Group A in Birmingham, alongside Australia, Jamaica, Scotland, Wales and Barbados. Group B has New Zealand, England, Malawi, Uganda, Trinidad & Tobago and Northern Ireland. As with cricket, the top two sides in each group will advance to the semifinals.
Akani Simbine will be hopeful of a podium finish on the running track. He has recently shown he is in great shape, despite losing his 100m title to Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala at the African Championships in May.
Simbine won the 100m at the Stockholm Diamond League in June. He was fifth at the World Championships in the US.
Simbine and Henrico Bruintjies completed a Team SA one-two at the 2018 Gold Coast Games and lead the men’s 4x100m relay team that is a medal prospect. Four years ago, they took silver. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.