18 July 2012
How much do you know about South Africa’s history at the Olympics? When was the country’s best performance? Who are SA’s top Olympians? Check out the records and the trivia in the first of three articles covering the 18 Olympic Games the country has competed in.
St Louis 1904
South Africa first competed in the Olympic Games in St Louis in 1904. Unfortunately, the country failed to win a single medal. That was not really surprising as the squad consisted of only three marathon runners and a tug-of-war team.
The best performers were Len Tau, who finished ninth in the marathon, while the tug-of-war team ended fifth.
The Games were dominated by the USA, which was not surprising as not more than 60 athletes from outside North America are reported to have taken part in the 1904 Games.
The Americans took home 239 medals, including 78 golds. Germany, the second placed country on the medal table, had 13 medals in all, with third-placed Cuba on nine.
Four years later, in London, South Africa won its first Olympic medals, with Reggie Walker winning the prestigious 100 metres gold and Charles Hefferon claiming second place in the marathon.
At the age of 19 years and 128 days, Walker remains the youngest 100 metres champion in the history of the Olympics.
Despite winning just two medals, South Africa placed 14th on the medal table.
Great Britain was far and away the most successful team. Its 56 gold medals was more than the total number of medals claimed by the United States, which finished second in the standings with a total of 47 medals, 23 of which were gold.
In terms of gold medals won, the 1912 Stockholm Games rank as the most successful Olympics in South Africa’s history.
Tennis player Charles Winslow won gold in the men’s doubles with Harold Kitson. He also beat his doubles partner to win the men’s singles.
Rudolph Lewis raced to gold in the road cycling event, and continuing the endurance theme, Ken McArthur took victory in the marathon. Christian Gitsham finished second to McArthur, to add another silver medal to that won by Kitson in the tennis.
With four gold and two silver medals, South Africa finished in seventh place on the medal table, the best position ever achieved by the country.
At the top, the USA edged Sweden for the most golds – 25 to 24, but the Swedes captured the most medals – 65 to the USA’s 63.
It was eight years before the Olympic Games were held again because of the First World War. Antwerp in Belgium was the host city.
In terms of total medals won, Antwerp proved to be South Africa’s most successful Games. The 10 medals won stood as a record for the country until it was matched at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. However, that mark has never been bettered.
Bevil Rudd, who had served in the First World War and won the Military Cross for bravery, was the star of the team, winning medals of every colour. He was crowned champion in the 400 metres and helped South Africa to second place in the 4x400m relay. He added a bronze medal in the 800 metres.
It would take until 2004 for another South African to match Rudd’s feat of a medal of every colour at an Olympic Games.
Clarence Walker won South Africa’s first Olympic boxing gold medal in the bantamweight division. It was the start of a run of success for South African boxers at the Olympics, which led to the sport becoming the country’s most successful medal winner at the Games, apart from athletics.
There was another South African gold medal in tennis, with Louis Raymond defeating Ichiya Kumagai, who became Japan first ever Olympic medallist, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in the final of the men’s singles.
Silver medals went to Bevil Rudd’s relay team-mates Henry Dafel, Clarence Oldfield, and Jack Oosterlaak.
The team of David Smith, Robert Brodley, Ferdinand Buchanan, George Harvey and Frederick Morgan also claimed silver in the men’s team 600m military rifle event. It remains the only shooting medal ever won by South Africa.
Cycling produced more success, with Henry Kaltenbrun finishing second in the men’s individual time trial and Wlliam Smith and James Walker ending second in the men’s tandem, an event which was discontinued after the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The men’s pursuit team, made up of Walker, Smith, Kaltenbrun and Harry Goosen added a bronze medal, and tennis player Charles Winslow, the winner of a gold medal in the men’s singles eight years earlier in Stockholm, took home a bronze medal this time around.
With three gold medals, four silvers, and three bronzes, South Africa placed 11th on the medal table. The USA led the way with a total of 95 medals, including 41 golds. Sweden again placed second, with Great Britain in third.
Paris hosted the Olympics in 1924. They were not nearly as successful for South Africa as the Antwerp Games.
The only gold medal came from bantamweight boxer William Smith. Having just turned 20, he was the youngest ever Olympic boxing champion.
Sydney Atkinson secured the South African team’s only silver medal in the 110m hurdles, while Cecil McMaster completed the list of South African medal winners with a third place in the 10 kilometre walk.
One might have expected success in the rugby competition, the only one held in Olympic history, but just three teams entered – the USA, France and Romania – with the Americans emerging as the champions.
South Africa ended 18th on the medal table. The USA finished first, with 45 gold medals and a total of 99. Finland placed second and France third.
In 1928 the host city was Amsterdam. South Africa, for the first time competing under the its new flag – consisting of background colours of orange, white and blue, with three smaller flags in the centre, the Union Flag, the flag of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Vierkleur – once again won only three medals.
The country produced a single champion again. Sydney Atkinson, a silver medallist four years earlier, won the gold medal in the 110m hurdles.
Boxer Harry Isaacs captured bronze in the bantamweight division, while Rhoda Rennie, Frederica van der Goes, Marie Redford and Kathleen Russell teamed up to finish third in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay, winning the first ever swimming medal for South Africa, while producing the first ever medal-winning performance from South African women.
The country finished 23rd on the medal table. Once more, the USA was number one, with 22 gold medals and a total of 56 medals in all. Germany finished second and Finland third.
Los Angeles 1932
Four years later, after a 28-year break, the Olympic Games returned to the United States and were hosted by Los Angeles.
Two South Africans became Olympic champions. David Carstens continued the country’s success in the boxing ring, lifting the light-heavyweight title after defeating Italian Gino Rossi in the final, while Lawrence Stevens, competing in the lightweight division, defeated Thure Ahlqvist of Sweden to win gold.
Eddie Peirce was South Africa’s third medal winner in boxing, with a bronze medal in the middleweight division.
Marjorie Clark became the first South African woman to win an athletics medal after finishing third in the 80m hurdles, while Jenny Maakal claimed bronze in the 400m freestyle, making her the first South African woman to win an individual swimming medal at the Olympic Games.
South Africa finished 15th on the medal table in Los Angeles.
The hosts, the USA, dominated. Their 41 gold medals exceeded the total number of medals won by the second placed Italian team, and they tallied 103 medals in all. Italy won 12 gold and 36 medals in all, with France finishing in third place.
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