Rio Olympics (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Did you know South Africa still holds the record for the youngest 100m gold medal winner at the Olympics? Or that we lost out on a gold medal because the runner drank champagne while still in the race?
Below is a list of quirky facts about South Africa's history in the Olympics.
- In 1904 South Africa made their debut at the Olympics. Team SA didn’t win any medals.
- South African Reggie Walker won gold in 1908 in the men's 100m with a time of 10.8, equalising the then Olympic record. He is still the youngest person (19 years, 128 days) to clinch gold in the Olympic men's 100m.
- That same year, South African marathon runner Charles Hefferon was in front, with about 2km to go in the men's Marathon. He then accepted a glass of champagne from a supporter in the crowd. Dorando Pietri (Italy) and Johnny Hayes (USA) overtook him. Pietri finished first, but was disqualified after he fell down and was helped up by umpires. Hayes then won, with Hefferon taking silver.
- South Africa’s best performance in terms of gold medals was at the 1912 Olympics hosted by Sweden. Team South Africa took home four gold medals and two silver medals. Ken McArthur (men’s Marathon), Rudolph Lewis (men’s Cycling Individual Time Trial), Harold Kitson and Charles Winslow (men’s Tennis doubles outdoor) and Winslow (men’s Tennis singles outdoor) took home gold medals.
- In 1920, South Africa produced their best performance (that would later be equalled in 1952) in terms of medals at the Olympic Games. South Africa won three gold, four silver and three bronze medals. It was also the first time South Africa won the 400m. Bevil Rudd took gold with a time of 49.6 - more than six seconds slower than the world record set by Wayde van Niekerk in Rio this year.
- In 1924 the Olympics was hosted in France. South Africa took home three medals - one gold, one silver and one bronze. South African Sid Atkinson missed out on a gold medal in France in 1924 in the 110m hurdles after clipping the last barrier with his toe. He took silver, but was back in 1928 in the Netherlands. This time Atkinson made no mistake and took gold in a time of 14.8. It was South Africa’s only gold medal at this edition of the games.
- From 1932 until 1948, South Africa won a total of 10 medals (four gold, two silver and four bronze), but in 1952 the country won 10 medals for a second time in one edition of the games. Esther Brand and Joan Harrison won gold in women’s high jump and the women’s 100m backstroke swimming respectively. Furthermore Team SA took home four silver and four bronze medals.
- South Africa took home four bronze medals in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, and followed that up with one silver and two bronze medals in Rome, Italy, in 1960.
- In 1964, South Africa's racist apartheid policies led to the banning of the country from the Olympics hosted by Tokyo, however, they were still allowed to participate at the Paralympics that year.
- The ban would keep South Africa from taking part in Mexico in 1968, Germany in 1972, Canada in 1976, Russia in 1980, USA in 1984 and South Korea in 1988.
- In 1992, as dismantling of the apartheid system began, South Africa was again allowed to compete in the Olympics hosted by Barcelona in Spain. Team SA competed with 93 athletes, but only managed two medals as Elana Meyer took silver in the women’s 10 000m and the duo of Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval took silver in the tennis men’s doubles.
- In 1996 in Atlanta in the USA, Penny Heyns cemented her name in South African record books by winning gold in both the women’s 100m breaststroke and the 200m breaststroke. Josia Thugwane also took gold in the men’s marathon that year in what was then the closest Olympic marathon finish ever. He ended a mere three seconds ahead Lee Bong-Ju from South Korea. Furthermore South Africa’s Hezekiel Sepeng took silver in the men’s 800m and Marianne Kriel took bronze in the women’s backstroke.
- No gold medal was achieved in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. However, Hestrie Cloete (women’s high jump) and Terence Parkin (men’s 200m breaststroke) took home silver, with Llewellyn Herbert (men’s 400m hurdles), Frantz Kruger (men’s discus) and Penny Heyns (women’s 100m breaststroke) taking home bronze.
- 2004 produced South Africa’s legendary 4x100m freestyle relay swimming team, consisting of Lyndon Ferns, Ryk Neethling, Roland Schoeman and Darian Townsend. They won the country’s only gold medal and, in the process, broke the Olympic and world record with a time of 3:13.17, bettering Australia’s previous record of 3:13.67. The USA broke that record again in 2008. Apart from the relay team, South Africa also took home three silver medals and two bronze medals.
- In Beijing in 2008, South Africa had its worst medal performance in the post-apartheid era, with Khotso Mokoena taking silver in the men’s long jump.
- The 2012 London Olympics saw a return to form for Team SA when Cameron van der Burgh, Chad le Clos and the rowing foursome of James Thompson, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and Sizwe Ndlovu brought home gold. Le Clos and Caster Semenya also took silver, while Bridgitte Hartley took bronze.
- As of Thursday, South Africa’s total medal tally in the history of the Olympics adds up to 85 – 24 gold, 32 silver and 29 bronze. The nine medals South African athletes have already won in Rio places them third on the all-time list of South African teams. Although Akani Simbine ended fifth in the 100m finals in Rio, his time of 9.98 is almost a second faster than that of Walker when he took gold in 1908.
* Source: https://www.olympic.org