Ryk Neethling (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The Rio afterglow period must end quickly to
allow for immediate planning for an even stronger South African assault on the
next Olympics in Tokyo.
That is the plea of Ryk Neethling, dual Olympic and
Commonwealth Games past swimming gold-medallist, just back from his own visit
to the 2016 Games.
In a wide-ranging interview with Sport24 at his Paarl base
shortly after his return from Brazil, Neethling also said the country needed to
remember that in their last participation at an Asian-staged Olympics – Beijing
2008 – a miserly single medal was earned.
“We have to see what happened (in Rio) more as a
springboard; my biggest wish is that we don’t go and relax for two years --
take a week or two off, by all means, enjoy the afterglow, but then let’s get
stuck right back in. Plan now for Tokyo!
“I’m already thinking things like: will we struggle like we
did in a (not dissimilar) part of the world at Beijing? We had a terrible Games
there, and why was that?
“Did we struggle to get to grips with the local culture, the
environment? These are the kind of issues that must be tackled well ahead.
“Maybe we actually benefited a bit in Rio because it was a
bit more chaotic in some respects, a bit more ‘Third World’ in feel … a lot of
the First World countries were complaining about organisation aspects, remember.
We seemed less bothered on that front.
“Let’s make really sure Tokyo is not another Beijing. There
are more Luvo Manyongas, more Wayde van Niekerks out there; OK, maybe not as
many Chads and Camerons in the pool right now. Rowing is on the verge of a big
breakthrough, I suspect … they maybe just fell short in Rio, and Tokyo will be where
we see four or five boats that come through.”
Neethling concedes that the Rio medal performance exceeded
his personal pre-Games expectations.
“The morning I left for Brazil I had a Laureus breakfast at
Century City and they asked me for my thoughts on South Africa getting 10: I
said that figure would be optimistic and eight actually a good showing, even if
on paper 12 was not out of the question if everything went right.
“At the Olympics, believe me, things don’t always (work
out). Other countries have an amazing Games, for instance, like Great Britain;
what we saw from them was kind of an aftermath from London 2012, the positive
“I thought we did really well, on the whole, even if we
obviously left a couple of medals out there. But for me it was really a hint of
what we can do further; the potential is so huge.
“We still don’t have an Olympics culture properly ingrained
in this country, even though it’s (changing for the better). We have to
capitalise on current gains immediately, not just forget about this Olympics
and start working frantically three months before the next.”
Neethling believes South Africa is still impeded to a degree
by its lengthy absence from the Olympics during the apartheid years.
“The reality is those 32 years of isolation did really take
us back, in terms of losing Olympic culture.
“I still don’t think everyone realises properly what it’s
all about; how special it is. Currie Cup rugby and cricket was strong (during
isolation) and kept those sports top of mind, but the swimming and athletics …
not as much.”
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. More post-Games thoughts from Ryk Neethling
will be published on Sport24 over the next few days.