From that famous, nation-uniting triumph in the 1995 Rugby World Cup through to Ernst van Dyk’s historic 10th victory in the 2014 Boston Marathon, the last two decades have seen numerous sporting successes for the democratic South Africa. Brad Morgan picks out 20 of the highlights.
1995 Rugby World Cup: the Springboks
The Springboks first contested the Rugby World Cup on home soil when South Africa hosted the event in 1995. Up against a seemingly unstoppable All Black juggernaut in the final, the Boks claimed a hard-fought 15-12 victory in extra time to show the value of sport in bringing the people of the Rainbow Nation together.
1996 Africa Cup of Nations: Bafana Bafana
A year after hosting the Rugby World Cup, South Africa hosted Africa’s most important football tournament, the Africa Cup of Nations. Led by inspirational coach Clive Barker and spurred on by fantastic support, Bafana Bafana, including stars like Lucas Radebe, Mark Fish and Doctor Khumalo, beat Tunisia 2-0 in the final to claim the title of African champions.
1996 World Cup of Golf: Ernie Els and Wayne Westner
South Africa hosted the World Cup of Golf at Cape Town’s Erinvale Golf Club in 1996. Ernie Els and Wayne Westner represented the hosts and, taking advantage of the familiar conditions and home support, dominated the event to post a record victory by 18 shots over their nearest challengers.
1996 Olympics: Penny Heyns, Josiah Thugwane
Penny Heyns captured the headlines at the Atlanta Olympic Games when she became the only woman in the history of the Olympics to do the 100m and 200m double in the breaststroke. Then, on the last day of competition, everyone was asking “Josiah who?” when little known Josiah Thugwane stunned the world by claiming gold in the marathon.
1998 ICC Champions Trophy: the Proteas
The Proteas have won only one major ICC title in their history. It came at the ICC Champions Trophy in Bangladesh in 1998. South Africa beat England by six wickets with 20 balls to spare, thrashed Sri Lanka by 92 runs, and then, in the final, defeated the West Indies by four wickets, with 18 balls in hand, to take the honours as Jacques Kallis won the man of the match award with bowling figures of 5 for 30. He was also named Player of the Tournament.
1998 Tri-Nations Rugby: the Springboks
In 1998, the Springboks won the Tri-Nations rugby title for the first time, going unbeaten, and including a 24-23 win over New Zealand in Durban, where they trailed 5-23 at one stage. The Tri-Nations’ triumph was part of a run of a record-equalling 18 successive test victories which included defeats of New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland, Italy, France, Scotland, and Wales.
2001 Boxing: ‘Baby’ Jake Matlala
In February 2001, “Baby” Jake Matlala, the shortest ever world boxing champion at 4 foot 10, won his fourth and final world title with an easy four round victory over Australia’s Todd Makelin for the WBU junior flyweight title. After two more fights he retired with a career record of 53 wins, 13 losses and two draws. He was one of the most popular South African boxers of all time.
2002 Commonwealth Games: Natalie du Toit
Only a year after having her left leg amputated following an accident, Natalie du Toit stole the show at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Competing in the 800 metres freestyle, she became the first athlete with a disability in history to qualify for the final of an able-bodied event at a major championship. She also won gold medals in two disability events and was unanimously named the first winner of the David Dixon Award for the outstanding athlete of the Games.
2003 Presidents Cup: Internationals vs USA
The 2003 President’s Cup, held at Fancourt near George in the Western Cape, was rated one of the golfing events ever. The four-day shootout between the United States and International team culminated in a sudden-death playoff between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els that went through three holes before fading light finally halted play. In a first for the competition, team captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player agreed to share the trophy – even though, as defending champions, the USA should have kept it. Afterwards, Nicklaus said it was “the most unbelievable event the game of golf has ever seen.”
2004 New York City Marathon: Hendrick Ramaala
Hendrick Ramaala won two major marathons in 2004. He became the first ever winner of the Mumbai Marathon and also sped to a comfortable victory in the New York City Marathon, which boasted a record field of 37 257 athletes, by 25 seconds over second-placed Meb Keflezighi.
2004 Olympics: SA men’s 4 by 100m freestyle relay
The “Awesome Foursome” – Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling – set the Athens Olympics alight when they defeated the favoured Americans and Australians to win gold in the four by 100m freestyle relay. Adding a cherry on the top, they claimed the victory in world record time.
2007 Rugby World Cup: the Springboks
The Springboks won the Rugby World Cup for a second time in 2007, going unbeaten through the tournament in France, which culminated with a 15-6 victory over defending champions England in the final. Remarkably, Os du Randt lifted the trophy for a second time, having also been a member of the 1995 World Cup winning side.
2008 Paralympics and Olympics: Natalie du Toit
In Beijing in 2008, Natalie du Toit made history when she was the flag bearer for the South African Olympic and Paralympic teams. She contested the 10km open water swim in the Olympics and won all five events she entered in the Paralympics. In addition, she was awarded the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, which is presented at every Paralympic Games to one male and one female who best exemplifies the spirit of the Games and inspires and excites the world.
2010 Fifa World Cup: the host country
In 2010, South Africa became the first African country in Fifa World Cup history to host football’s biggest event. Fifa president Sepp Blatter praised the country’s hosting of the event, giving it a 9 out of 10. “You have shown the world that you can achieve anything and it’s time now that you show the rest of Africa that it can achieve anything,” Blatter said at a post-tournament press conference in Johannesburg. “South Africa has not only managed to stage a incident-free world cup, it has left a good impression to the people of the world, and you can be proud of that; the compliments should go to you, not to Fifa.”
2012 Olympics: Le Clos, Van der Burgh, men’s rowing
The London Olympic Games produced some exciting surprises for South African sport fans. Cameron van der Burgh, regarded as more of a 50 metre breaststroke specialist, got the ball rolling by smashing the world record to win the 100 metres’ gold medal. Chad le Clos then shocked Michael Phelps, unbeaten for over a decade, to capture the 200m butterfly gold. The men’s lightweight fours rowing crew of Matthew Brittain, Lawrence Ndlovu, John Smith and James Thompson then staged a stunning come-from-behind win to add a third gold medal as South Africa enjoyed a fine showing after disappointing in Beijing four years earlier.
2013 Tour de France: Daryl Impey
The Tour de France was first organised in 1903. It took over a century for an African rider to earn the famous yellow jersey in cycling’s flagship event, and when it happened on 4 July 2013, that man was Daryl Impey, a South African. Overall victory in the race went to Kenya’s Chris Froome, who attended school in South Africa and began his professional career in the country.
2013 UCI MTB World Championships: Greg Minnaar
Downhill mountain biking star Greg Minnaar had an opportunity to defend the 2012 world champion’s title he had won in Leogang, Austria on his home track, the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg, in 2013. With massive support from the home fans, the three-time overall World Cup winner did not disappoint, blitzing his way to his third World Championship crown to the joy of his many supporters.
2013 US Open wheelchair quads: Lucas Sithole
In 2013, quad wheelchair tennis player Lucas Sithole made his mark. He stunned world number one David Wagner to win the British Open in July, but the best was to come at the US Open in September. Sithole beat the American in the round robin and then beat him in three sets again to capture his first major title.
2014 Boston Marathon: Ernst van Dyk
When Ernst van Dyk won the wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon in April 2014, it was his first victory in the iconic race since 2010. At 41 years of age, however, he had became the first athlete in any of the various classes to record 10 wins in the Boston Marathon.
Golf: nine victories in majors
Winning a major title is the pinnacle of achievement in the world of golf, and among the most prestigious achievements in all of sport. It would be unfair to recognise only one major winner because South African golfers have been so successful in the past 20 years, so hats off to the following major winners: Ernie Els (US Open 1994 and 1997, British Open 2002 and 2012); Retief Goosen (US Open 2001 and 2004); Trevor Immelman (US Masters 2008); Louis Oosthuizen (British Open 2010); Charl Schwartzel (US Masters 2011).
America’s Cup: Team Shosholoza
A story that captured the imagination between the years of 2005 and 2009 was that of the South African America’s Cup contender, Team Shosholoza. Sporting a beautiful hull inspired by Ndebele and Zulu beadwork, the yacht Shosholoza could not be missed. The team, which included a number of sailors from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, proved to be an inspiration. Two years after the America’s Cup, they defeated two-time America’s Cup defending champions Alinghi in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series.