25 September 2007
Four South Africans were honoured for their contributions to sport in the country at a national orders ceremony in Pretoria on Thursday evening. The awards, including one posthumous award, were presented by President Thabo Mbeki.
Kitch Christie, who coached the Springboks to Rugby World Cup glory in 1995, was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga (silver).
He was in charge of the Boks for only 14 test matches, but his record was a perfect 14 wins out of 14, including securing rugbyis biggest title.
Christie’s World Cup winning Springboks united the country in a manner that politicians could only dream about just one year after South Africa became a democracy. All past grievances along racial lines were forgotten as people revelled in the Boks becoming champions of the rugby world.
He retired in 1996 after being diagnosed with leukemia. His record of 14 successive wins as Springbok coach was, at the time, the longest winning streak of any SA national coach.
Sadly, Christie succumbed to his illness in April 1998.
Morne du Plessis
Morne du Plessis, the manager of the 1995 World Cup team, was also awarded the Order of Ikhamanga.
Inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1999, the high esteem in which Du Plessis is held was underlined when he was elected a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, joining many greats of the sports world, including Jack Nicklaus, Sir Bobby Charlton, Martina Navratilova, Hugo Porta, Sebastian Coe, Katarina Witt, and Dan Marino.
Due to South Africa’s apartheid policies when Du Plessis played the game, he played only 22 tests in a 10-year international career. The Springboks won 18 of those matches and, with Du Plessis as captain, they won 13 of 15 tests.
He later became the co-founder and a director of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and, through his work with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation has played a big role in giving South African youngsters opportunities in the sports they would otherwise never have been afforded.
The former head of the National Olympic Committee of South Africa, Sam Ramsamy, was also recognised when he, too, received the Order of Ikhamanga.
He was a high-profile anti-apartheid campaigner in London and was chairman of South Africa’s non-racial Olympic committee during the apartheid years. He was famously quoted as saying “No normal sport in an abnormal society”.
After the ban on the African National Congress was lifted, he returned to South Africa and became the President of the National Olympic Committee in 1991. A year later, he led the first non-racial South African team to the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Ramsamy is now a member of the International Olympic Committee, serving on the commission that is evaluating bids for the 2010 Summer Olympics.
The final sportsperson to be honoured in Pretoria was swimming star Roland Schoeman.
A star sprinter, Schoeman has set long course world records in the 50 metres butterfly and, famously, as part of the South African 4 by 100 freestyle relay team that won gold at the Athens Olympics.
In short course events, he has set world records in the 50 metres freestyle, as well as the 100 freestyle and 100 individual medley.
Schoeman has an enviable record in major competitions. Apart from his relay gold in Athens, he won silver in the 100 metres freestyle and bronze in the 50 freestyle.
At the Fina World Championships in 2005 in Montreal, he won the 50 butterfly in a world record 22.96 seconds and the 50 freestyle in 21.69, the second fastest time in history. He also claimed bronze in the 100 metres freestyle.
In 2006, at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, he won gold in the 4 by 100 freestyle relay, gold in the 50 freestyle, and bronze in the 100 freestyle.
Schoeman famously turned down a R40-million offer to swim for Qatar in December 2005, saying it was his national pride that prevented him taking up the big money offer.