SA’s first rowing Olympic medal

23 August 2004

While Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente won South Africa’s first rowing Olympic medal on the weekend, taking third in the 2 000m pairs, swimmer Roland Schoeman captured his third medal of the Games, bronze in the 50m freestyle, making him one of the most successful South Africans in Olympic history.

Schoeman went into the semi-finals of the freestyle sprint having recorded the fastest time in the semi-finals of 21.99. In the final, however, he didn’t enjoy the advantage he usually gets from the start, as Jason Lezak very nearly matched him.

National Olympic Committee of South Africa Ultimately, though, it was defending champion Gary Hall junior and Duje Draganja who got the better of the South African ace. The American clocked 21.93 to steal gold ahead of Draganja, who recorded 21.94. Schoeman finished in 22.02.

The third place finish means Schoeman collected a medal of each colour at Athens 2004 – he also took gold in the 4×100 freestyle relay and silver for the 100 metres freestyle.

Only Penny Heyns (two swimming golds in 1996 and a bronze in 2000) and Charles Winslow (two tennis golds in 1912 and a bronze in 1920) had managed to win three Olympic medals for South Africa. Schoeman joins that list as the first to achieve the feat at one Olympic Games.

Cech, Di Clemente give their all
In the final of the men’s heavyweight pairs, rowers Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente went into the race struggling with lower back problems. However, they were determined to not let anything stand in their way, and a whole-hearted effort enabled them to capture bronze.

Heading into the final quarter of the race, the South Africans were in fifth place. But a fine finishing effort, the fastest of any crew in the race over the final 500 metres, enabled Cech and Di Clemente to pass both Serbia and Montenegro and Germany to move into medal position.

So great was the effort the two men put in that Cech, after crawling out of his boat after the race, lay on the pier, retching, 20 minutes after the race.

Freitag: tough handicap
World high jump champion Jacques Freitag bravely tried to contest his event despite a severe foot injury, but the handicap proved too much as he was eliminated during qualifying, having managed only 2.20 metres, well below his best of 2.37 metres.

A number of other athletes failed to make it beyond the qualifying rounds, including Geraldine Pillay in the 100 metres, Khotso Mokoena in the triple jump, Johan Cronje in the 1 500 metres, Marcus La Grange in the 400 metres, and Elizna Naude in the discus.

In the women’s heptathlon, Janice Josephs finished well behind gold medal winner Karolina Kluft on 6 074 points.

Hockey: women win at last
On the hockey field, South Africa’s women’s team finally got their game together to dump Germany 3-0. Sharne Wehrmeyer put SA on track after only four minutes, and goals in the second half from Pietie Coetzee and Jenny Wilson secured a convincing win. Germany later went on to beat South Korea and qualify for the semi-finals.

The men’s hockey team suffered another tough loss, going down 3-2 to Australia after playing the second half without Iain Evans, who was red-carded. It was South Africa’s second 3-2 loss – the Dutch beat them on a last minute goal – while in another heartbreaker, India scored two in the final minute to beat South Africa 4-2.

The South African tally included yet another goal for the prolific Greg Nicol, while Emile Smith also netted.

Sailing, fencing, shooting, diving
There were no heroics from South Africa’s swimmers in the 4×100 metres medley relay as they finished well out of the running, in eighth place in their heat.

Gareth Blanckenberg wrapped up his challenge in sailing’s laser class with a twenty-sixth place finish in race 11, leaving him in seventeenth place overall.

South Africa’s women’s fencing team was well beaten in their team epee clash with Greece, going down 34-15, while Martin Senore failed to qualify for the final of the 50 metres rifle prone competition, and diver Jenna Dreyer finished well down the standings in qualifying for the women’s 10 metres platform final.

In athletics action on Sunday, Estie Wittstock ran in the semi-finals of the 400 metres. She clocked a useful 51.77, but at Olympic level that wasn’t enough to get her into the final as world number one Tonique Williams won the race in 50 seconds exactly.