By Drew Farmer
South Africa’s time at the 2016 Rio Olympics will go down as a success. The South African team took home 10 medals in all, with two being gold. South Africa’s 10 ranked them 30th overall in medals won in Rio. Kenya was the only African nation to win more (13), just edging out the South Africans.
South Africa’s trip to Rio was topped off by Wayde van Niekerk’s world record in the Men’s 400 metre race. Van Niekerk blazed his way to gold in the race as he shattered Michael Johnson’s world record set in 1999. The South African’s time of 43.03 gives him a claim to the title of World’s Fastest Man.
The 24-year-old is in the prime of his sprinting career, and his gold medal at the Rio Olympics caps a fantastic four-year span that has seen Van Niekerk medal in four separate competitions on the way to Brazil. The 400m has been his best race over the last two years, and his speed in the competition in Rio showed an athlete that has honed his abilities in the event.
Van Niekerk’s gold wasn’t the only major success of the games. Caster Semenya was able to put the western media’s headlines and opinions behind her as she sprinted to gold. Semenya’s gold in the Women’s 800m race hasn’t put to rest the controversy over her gender, but it has given her much to smile about for a change. The South African ran a 1:55.28 race, beating out the competition. Semenya was finally able to be called the world’s best women at the 800m.
Semenya won silver at the London Olympics in 2012. Her ability to go one better in Rio has proved that her training and preparation was spot on. However, since her win, the International Association of Athletics Federations is set to continue with its case against Semenya. Something she is sick of speaking about. Unfortunately for Semenya, it doesn’t look like the debate will end soon on whether she can continue to compete.
The country is rallying behind her, and the support for Semenya has been overwhelming. Many have called for the hyperandrogenic athlete to take medication or have surgery to supress her hormones. Right now she is fighting against those calling for her to be banned or to change.
Although Van Niekerk and Semenya were South Africa’s most successful athletes, the country had other medal winners during the games. Luvo Manyonga leapt to silver in the men’s long jump. Sunette Viljoen obtained a silver in the women’s javelin throw. Chad Le Clos was brilliant in swimming, bring home two silver medals. Meanwhile, South Africa’s rugby sevens team won bronze in Rio.
With such a haul of medals, South Africa is on the rise in international competition. At Tokyo 2020, South Africa has put itself in position to do even better in four years’ time.