Team SA departs in style
Team SA's Olympic mascot (Photo: Team SA - Twitter)
Johannesburg - South Africa's team for the Olympic Games in London was treated to a send-off at OR Tambo International on Thursday that clearly inspired some of the members.
Olympic silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng said the occasion was an important motivator for them ahead of the London Olympic Games.
Sepeng is going to his fourth global showpiece, but as a part of the athletics management team, not as an athlete.
The silver medallist in the men's 800 metres at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games said Thursday's farewell was the best he had ever experienced since his debut in the US.
Hundreds of South Africans turned up, singing for the team and cheering them on to do their best in London.
Sepeng said the festivities and formalities in the build-up were an important part of the whole Olympic experience.
"These are the memories when you think of the Olympics outside of competition. These are the things you will remember. These are the things you will miss.
"If you're an athlete and you don't want to attend training camps or the farewell and you are staying in Europe, you are missing out on something really big.
"I would always encourage those athletes who are going to their first Olympics to be part of the farewell parties."
Most of the of the 125-member team, which will compete in 17 sports, was given an official send-off by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) on Wednesday night.
Last week the team was addressed by President Jacob Zuma.
Speaking at the dinner in Sandton on Wednesday, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula again called for a 12-medal return.
In the build-up to their departure, most team members stayed in a holding camp at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria.
The aquatics squad and some track and field athletes have already based themselves in Europe.
Those in Pretoria sat through motivational talks and took part in team-building exercises, and on Wednesday they joined in the festivities around former President Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday.
Sam Ramsamy, a member of the International Olympic Committee and former president of South Africa's Olympic governing body, gave the team some encouraging words on Thursday.
Recounting a conversation he once had with 1996 Olympic marathon champion Josiah Thugwane, Ramsamy said it was up to the athletes to overcome the challenges they faced against the world's top sports stars.
"People can give you all the resources you need, but nobody can give you heart, determination and guts."
The national women's football team, Banyana Banyana, will be the first to compete in London when they square up against Sweden in their opening match on July 25 - two days before the official start of the Games.
Middle-distance runner Caster Semenya will carry the South African flag at the opening ceremony on July 27.