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Sam outlines Team SA plans for Tokyo 2020

2016-08-20 07:00
Chad le Clos (Getty)

Rio de Janeiro - Team South Africa are expected to win their 10th medal of the Rio Olympics on Saturday (Sunday morning, SA time) when Caster Semenya takes part in the women's 800m final. 

If you use the total number of medals won as the benchmark, then this has been South Africa's most successful Olympics since re-admission. 

SASCOC president Gideon Sam, already credited with resurrecting the career of long jump silver medallist Luvo Manyonga, was all smiles at the athletes village in Rio on Friday as he reflected on the 2016 Games.

"Short of a disaster happening on that track we will be over the line tomorrow with our 10th medal when Caster runs on Saturday," Sam told Sport24 on his 67th birthday.

"I was thinking that by the time we got to Caster it would have been a formality and we would have got those medals. The depth is there and we just need to work harder than that.

"I’m happy that, for once, we could look at what we’ve got in South Africa in terms of the pool of athletes and make the right prediction."

Team South Africa consisted of 137 athletes at Rio 2016 and not everybody who qualified for the Games was taken along. 

The men's and women's hockey teams were the highest profile athletes to be overlooked by SASCOC in a decision that raised eyebrows, but Sam believes that South Africa is on the right track in terms of fielding athletes who stand a realistic chance of challenging for medals. 

He said that, moving forward, Team South Africa needed the buy-in of local and provincial government, tertiary education institutions and even the armed forces as the country looked to get even stronger by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and then the Commonwealth Games in Durban in 2022. 

"My take on it would be to get a squad of about 250, work with them, work with the university system, ask for support from the universities, the armed forces … especially for combat sports like boxing and Taekwondo," said Sam.

"Then after 2018 (Commonwealth Games, Australia) we can prune them and say that these are the 150 that we are taking to Tokyo and let’s see what happens."

The process of identifying which athletes would be included in SASCOC's Operation Excellence (OPEX) programme in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 would begin immediately, said Sam.

"How long are you going to keep Henri Schoeman (triathlon bronze medallist) out of it? You can’t," said Sam.

"We need to look at the depth of what we’ve got now. I know that it’s a financial issue but we need to find the money as quickly as we can … talk to the government, talk to the minister.

"It has been the cry of sports minister Fikile Mbalula that the budget must be more friendly to him. I think this kind of performance strengthens his hand to actually go back to treasury and ask them to look at the performances."

But Sam said SASCOC needed to be careful in terms of where they spent their money.

"We must be strategic," he said.

"You can’t just pour money into sport and not really have the results you are looking for. What is the strategy?

"We also need to say to ourselves that we have focus areas. We must be selective."

Lloyd Burnard is Sport24's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro for the duration of the 2016 Olympics ...

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