11 January 2005
As 2005 kicks off, we take a quick glance at some of the South African sports men and women who stood out in the year that was 2004.
It was, in many ways, a better sporting year than 2003, and this small list includes some repeaters from last year’s selection – proof of their world-class consistency – and a few new stars who made waves around the world.
The SA men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team
Australia and the USA were supposed to dominate in the swimming pool at the Athens Olympics, but in one of the most glamorous events, the men’s 4×100 metres freestyle relay, South Africa shocked the world.
The first hint that South Africa might have a shot at a medal came in the semi-finals, where SA qualified first with some ease in the fastest time, which wasn’t that far off the world record. Most people, however, expected the favoured traditional swimming powers to come through in the final.
It never happened. South Africa dominated in the final as Roland Schoeman got the team off to a sensationally fast start. Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling kept the domination going in the three legs that followed, and when Neethling touched home South Africa had won not just convincingly, but in world record time.
Schoeman also shone in the individual freestyle sprint events, grabbing silver in the 100m (Neethling was fourth) and bronze in the 50m. He was the biggest star of the Olympics for South Africa.
- Schoeman bags another medal
For much of 2004, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was the top-ranked 800 metres runner in the world. In a very competitive event, he was the most consistent of all the top athletes.
After winning silver at the World Championships in Paris in 2003, he wanted gold at the Olympics in Athens in 2004. A medal of any kind suddenly became a very distant dream, however, as he struggled with injury and illness in the lead-up to the Games. His form suffered as he fought to overcome those setbacks.
In the Greek capital, though, Mulaudzi, somewhat unexpectedly given his less than ideal preparations, put all his problems behind him to run a great race in the final to finish second behind Yuri Borzakovsky, and just in front of world record holder Wilson Kipketer, whom he out-kicked in the sprint for the finish line.
In many ways it was just reward for the consistency that had lifted Mulaudzi to the top of the world 800 metres rankings.
Golf ace Ernie Els had a very good year that was very nearly a great year. He put himself in position to challenge for all four major titles, but narrowly missed out on adding to the three he has already won.
He took second in the US Masters, ninth in the US Open, second in the British Open, and fourth in the US PGA.
The Big Easy also claimed five victories, including a record-breaking sixth World Matchplay title. In a very consistent year, he finished in the top ten 16 times.
- Ernie’s a winner despite loss
- Ernie’s Heineken Classic hat-trick
Golf’s quietest superstar added another major title to his list of honours in 2004. For the second time he captured the US Open, producing what many observers regarded as one of the greatest putting displays of all time to win on the treacherous greens of Shinnecock Hills.
He also added the European Open title, and the big season-ending Tour Championship in the USA. Those victories proved, once again, that when the going gets tough the Goose gets going.
Goosen’s superb performances lifted him to a career high fourth-place in the world rankings. Many experts believe he could move up even higher in 2005.
- Golden ‘Goose’ takes US Open
- Goosen: superb when it counts
High jumper Hestrie Cloete enjoyed another superb year. The IAAF’s athlete of the year for 2003, she was once again in great form, going through the benchmark Golden League Series unbeaten, and seemingly always able to pull out that little bit extra when needed to top the opposition.
She cleared the two-metre barrier a stunning nine times.
Cloete’s primary aim, though, was the Olympic Games. She won silver in Sydney in 2000; in 2004 she wanted gold.
In the final, Cloete jumped beautifully, clearing every height without failure, from 1.89 metres to 2.02 metres. Russia’s Yelena Slesarenko matched her all the way, however. Cloete then failed at 2.04m, while Slesarenko cleared.
After another failure at 2.04m, Cloete upped the bar to 2.06 metres. She missed out again and was left with silver once more.
The fact that she didn’t win gold should not detract, however, from a brilliant year for the South African star.
2003 World Downhill Mountain Bike champion Greg Minnaar signed with Honda for the 2004 season, riding for the first time on a bike designed specifically with his needs in mind. It took some getting used to, but the results were again excellent for the humble man from Pietermaritzburg.
In the US, he successfully defended his Norba Downhill Series title, and also starred in the World Cup Series.
Minnaar recorded wins in the Mexican Nationals, in the World Cup in Fort William, and in Norba Downhill events in Durango, Sandpoint, Mount Snow, and Snowshoe Mountain.
It was another outstandingly consistent set of results for the South African superstar.
For a long time, Hendrick Ramaala was one of the world’s best half-marathon athletes. Then he took the step up to the standard marathon.
His results were good, top 10 finishes in big races, but he never made the breakthrough to win one of them – until 7 November 2004. Contesting the New York City Marathon, he faced a world-class field, but on that day Ramaala proved to be the class of the field.
He emulated Willie Mtolo’s win of 12 years earlier in 2:09:28, beating Olympic silver medal winner Meb Keflezighi into second place and Boston Marathon champion Timothy Cherigat into third.
Ramaala’s victory put an end to talk of unfulfilled promises in emphatic fashion.
Bafana Bafana striker Benni McCarthy made his mark with Portuguese soccer giants Porto in a superb year for the club.
They won the Portuguese league title with McCarthy to the fore, leading the league in scoring. However, it was in Europe where Porto and McCarthy truly made their mark.
The Portuguese champions stunned the soccer world by winning the European Champions League, and the South African striker played a vital role in their success, which was crowned by a three-nil victory over Monaco in the title decider.
His performances included two stunners against Manchester United in the first round of the first-leg knockout stage; even a superb free kick in the second leg that struck the crossbar led to a goal.
McCarthy has started the new season in strong fashion; recently he scored against Chelsea to inflict the first loss of the Champions League campaign on the English powerhouse. Porto needed a win to advance, and once again McCarthy came through. His goal was Porto’s one-hundredth in European competition. Of those, he has scored 26!
He is deservedly in the running for the title of African Footballer of the Year.
Springbok Schalk Burger tore through the rugby world like a colossus in 2004, with one brilliant performance after another. From relative obscurity, he made the rugby world sit up and take notice, and by the end of the season he had won an amazing five big awards.
His fellow players recognised just how outstanding his contribution to the Springboks’ revival had been by voting him the International Rugby Players’ Association Players’ Player of the Year. He was also named, not surprisingly, International Newcomer of the Year.
The International Rugby Board named him its Player of the Year. He was also named South African Player of the Year.
France’s authoritative Midi Olympique organised a vote amongst 46 journalists from 10 different countries, and they, also, went with the “Incredible Schalk” as their player of the year.
It was a stunning year for Schalk Burger, a year in which the Springboks’ fortunes, not coincidentally, underwent a stunning turnaround. With Burger to the fore, the future of SA Rugby looks bright again.
- Rugby’s best rate Schalk tops
- Burger named Player of the Year
The SA Paralympic Team
The South African Paralympic team tore up Athens with a string of sensational performances. Their enthusiasm and humility captured the hearts of the rainbow nation.
Overall, SA finished thirteenth on the medal table, picking up 35 medals in all, including 15 golds.
The inspirational Natalie du Toit was the star of the show, winning five events in the swimming pool, four of them in world record time.
Teboho Mokgalagadi claimed a sprint double for athletes with cerebral palsy, winning the 100 metres and 200 metres, while Fanie Lombaard also celebrated a double in the shot put and discus.
Double amputee Oscar Pistorius roared into the record books with brilliant results in the sprints; he won bronze in the 100 metres and gold in the 200 metres, and both his victories came in world record time.
Malcolm Pringle showed his cliss by winning the 800 metres for the third Paralympic Games in succession, also in world record time.
Zanele Situ, the first black South African to win Paralympic gold, repeated the success she enjoyed in Sydney in 2000, again claiming victory in the javelin.
The SA Women’s Bowls Team
The triples combination of Trish Steyn, Jill Hackland and Loraine Victor won gold at the 10th Women’s World Bowls 2004 with a solid 21-11 victory over Australia in the final. Lorna Trigwell picked up silver in the singles, falling at the final hurdle to three-time champion Margaret Johnson.
The fours combination came in sixth, and the pairs took thirteenth place.
The excellent performance confirmed South Africa’s place as one of the world’s leaders in bowls. It also helped make the centenary year of South African bowls a very successful one.
Herman Chalupsky showed that he remains one of the world’s greatest surfski paddlers by winning the world title in Perth. In a battle with Australian star Nathan Baggaley, Chalupsky had something left in the tank when it came to a sprint for the finish line, taking victory by 30 seconds.
He followed that result with a second place in the double-ski event.
In addition, Chalupsky won the Molokai World Surf Ski Championship, emulating his brother Oscar, who has won the race a record 10 times. He also teamed with Oscar to win the 55-kilometre Kauai Relay, defeating Aussie legend Dean Gardiner and Dave Kissane by over 13 minutes.
- Chalupskys blitz Kauai relay
- 2004 SA Single Ski title shared
- Oscar Chalupsky: best of the best
Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente
Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente took an impressive record into the Athens Olympics: sixth in the Sydney Olympics, gold in the World Championships in 2001, silver in 2002, bronze in 2003.
No other combination could match that consistency heading into the Olympics; but medals are won in the water, not on paper.
In the heats, Cech and Di Clemente reached the final only after Canada was disqualified for rowing across the South African boat, but they made the most of their opportunity in the medal decider.
In the final, as the race progressed towards its final quarter, the South African duo were out of the medals in fifth place, but the fastest finishing effort of any of the crews over the final 500 metres lifted the SA stars into third spot and a well-deserved bronze medal. It was a great reward for years of perseverance and hard work.
Canoeing strongman Ant Stott showed just what he was made of with a very successful stint of racing overseas.
He teamed with Gary Mawer to take a dominating victory in the prestigious Liffey Descent in Ireland. In addition he scored back-to-back top 10 finishes in the World Marathon Championships, snatched victory in the world famous Sella Descent, and overall went four out of five in Spain.
In South Africa, Stott won the Dusi with Martin Dreyer, took another win in the Fish Marathon, added the Croc title and the Land Rover 50 Miler. In anybody’s book it was a great year.
- Ant Stott, King of the Croc 2004
- Records tumble in Fish 2004
- Great Stott! A great month!
- Ant Stott on fire in Spain