South Africa’s 2009 sports highlights

24 December 2009

South African rugby teams finished the year as holders of the World Cup title, the Tri-Nations title, the Super 14 crown, and the IRB Sevens World Series title. That makes rugby the place to begin a look-back on the year that was…

Springboks

The Springboks were crowned the IRB Team of the Year in 2009 despite a remarkably difficult season, which was possibly the toughest in their history: three matches against the British and Irish Lions, three matches against New Zealand, three matches against Australia, and end-of-year tour outings against France, Italy, and Ireland.

The two biggest challenges were the series against the British and Irish Lions, who had beaten the Springboks 12 years previously in 1997, and the Tri-Nations, which featured the teams holding down the top three places in the International Rugby Board rankings. South Africa won both.

Without the advantage of facing a second tier nation before taking on the Lions, it was a difficult start to the international season, but the Boks scored 26-21 and 28-25 victories in the first two tests to ensure a series victory. A decision to make 10 changes to the Springbok line-up for the third test, with the series already won, backfired badly as the Lions romped to a 28-9 victory.

In the Tri-Nations, South Africa won five of their six matches. They beat New Zealand three times in succession for the first time since 1949 – 28-19, 31-19, and 32-29 – and defeated Australia 29-17 and 32-25, before losing 6-21 in Brisbane.

At the end of the year, losses to France and Ireland, either side of a win over Italy, by a tired-looking team took some gloss off of the Springboks’ achievements, but the fact that they had won the two toughest challenges outside of the World Cup in the same year ensured they were named the IRB Team of the Year.

Fourie du Preez and Francois Steyn earned nominations as the IRB International Player of the Year.

Super 14

A late season collapse by the Sharks saw South Africa miss out on having two teams in the Super 14 semi-finals. The Bulls finished strongly, however, to take top spot on the table, just ahead of the Chiefs and the Hurricanes.

New Zealand had three teams in the top four, with the Crusaders, who would be the Bulls’ opponents in the semi-finals, finishing in fourth place, ahead of the Waratahs on points’ difference. The Sharks finished in sixth.

In the must-win situation of the playoffs, the Bulls produced their best rugby to capture the Super 14 title for the second time. They beat the Crusaders 36-23 in the semi-finals, behind four drop goals by Morne Steyn, and followed that up with a sublime performance against the Chiefs in the final.

After falling behind 7-0 early on, the Bulls swamped the New Zealanders, running in eight tries to two, as they won by a record margin for the final of 61-17.

Sevens

South Africa captured the IRB World Sevens Series overall title for the first time in the 2008/09 season.

They led the standings from the start to the finish of the season after a strong start to it, which included a victory in Dubai followed by a first ever title on home soil in George. Those titles proved to be the springboard to the overall crown.

Later in the season, SA successfully defended the Adelaide Sevens title. They also finished runners-up at the Hong Kong Sevens and the Edinburgh Sevens.

There was good news for the sport in October when the International Olympic Committee announced that Sevens and golf would be part of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro; South Africa is strong in both sports.

Jonathan Kaplan made history in March when he became the first man to referee 50 test matches.

Swimming

South African swimmers excelled in 2009 after failing to win a medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Cameron van der Burgh, South Africa’s swimmer of the year, proved himself to be the fastest breaststroke swimmer in the world. In August, at the World Championships in Rome, he finished third in the 100 metres, but followed that up with victory in the 50 metres in a world record-setting time of 26.67 seconds.

Later in the year, he finished as the overall winner of the Fina World Cup for the second year in succession. During the course of the five-stop series, he set world short course records in the 50 metres in 25.25 seconds, and the 100 metres in 55.61.

Roland Schoeman finished second to Van der Burgh in the World Cup overall standings and also swam the 50 metres freestyle faster than any man in history at the South African Short Course Championships in Pietermariztburg, clocking an astounding time of 20.30 seconds.

Other South African winners during the course of the World Cup included George du Rand, Darian Townsend, and Kathryn Meaklim, who all set world records, as well as Gerhard Zandberg and Chad le Clos.

Chad Ho became the first South African to win an open water medal at the World Championships when he placed third in the five-kilometres.

Terence Parkin, the winner of a silver medal in the 2000 Olympic Games, dominated the Deaflympics, winning seven gold medals in Taipei to take his career total to an astounding 29 in four Deaflympics.

Cricket

South Africa could make a strong claim as having been the focus of world cricket in 2009. The country hosted the ICC Champions Trophy, the Indian Premier League, and series featuring the Proteas against Australia at the start of the year and England at the end of the year.

The series against Australia was round two of an away and home face-off. After winning Down Under for the first time, and handing the Aussies their first series loss on home soil in 16 years, the tables were turned in South Africa, with Australia winning the series 2-1 for a 3-3 share of the spoils. There was some consolation for the Proteas in the final test; they thrashed the visitors by an innings and 20 runs to hand Australia its first innings defeat since 1998.

The Indian Premier League, hosted at short notice, proved to be a massive successive with jam-packed crowds throughout despite the 59-match schedule. Combining show business and cricket, with many of the owners having links to Bollywood, it was cricket with a funky twist and South African cricket lovers lapped it up.

The final outcome of the event was very surprising as the Deccan Chargers, last in 2008, claimed the title after a six-run win over the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final.

In late September, South Africa played host to the biggest ICC event of the year, the Champions Trophy. It didn’t go well for the Proteas, who entered the event ranked number one in the world in the 50 overs a side game, but for Australia, whitewashed by England in England just before the Champions Trophy, it was a chance at redemption that they seized with both hands as they claimed the honours.

Earlier in the year, Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock became the first South Africans to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame.

Umpire Rudi Koertzen became the first man in history to stand in 200 one-day internationals, and only the second man to take charge of 100 tests and 100 ODIs.

Football

Pride of place on the South African football front in 2009 went to the Fifa Confederations Cup. The precursor to the 2010 World Cup went off without a hitch in June and the national team, Bafana Bafana, rose to the occasion by reaching the semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Brazil through an 88th minute goal. Later, in the playoffs for third and fourth, South Africa went down 3-2 to Spain in a extra time thriller.

It was an up-and-down year for the national team, which completed a South African record run of five successive wins in January, but then went on to lose eight of nine games later in the year, which cost coach Joel Santana his job. That led to the return of the Brazilian’s predecessor Carlos Alberto Parreira.

SuperSport United showed their first PSL title, won in the 2007/08 season, was no fluke as they repeated as league champions. It was tight, however. They won their first title by only two points, but the second one was even tighter with United edging out Orlando Pirates on goal difference after both team finished with 55 points.

Moroka Swallows, without silverware since their win in the Absa Cup in 2004, won the same title, now named the Nedbank Cup, in 2009. Lamontville Golden Arrows, who first entered the PSL in the 2000/01 season, won the first title in the club’s history when they captured the MTN 8 with a stunning 6-0 demolition of Ajax Cape Town in the final.

Golf

Retief Goosen, after a gradual slide down the Official World Golf Rankings, found his game again in 2009, winning two titles, one in the USA and one in South Africa.

He captured the Transitions Championship for his first win on the PGA Tour since 2005. He also took the honours in the Africa Open in East London. And speaking of the Africa Open, it has become the latest South African event to be included on the PGA European Tour; the first co-sanctioned tournament takes place in early January 2010.

James Kingston, the winner of the South African Open in 2008, an event co-sanctioned by the PGA European Tour and Sunshine Tour, claimed his first European Tour win on European soil.

He had missed four cuts in succession, when he entered September’s Mercedes-Benz Championships at Golf Club Gut Larchenhof in Cologne, Germany. After a back-and-forth final round, during which the lead changed hands numerous times, Kingston and Anders Hansen (who would go on to top the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit) met in a playoff. Kingston clinched the title on the first extra hole and bolstered his bank balance by about R3.5-million.

There was further good news for golf in general when it was announced that the sport would be included in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Considering the country’s fine pedigree in the golf, it is good news for South Africa’s Olympic medal prospects.

Surfing

South African big wave charger Grant “Twiggy” Baker was recognised at the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards – the ‘Oscars’ of the sport – with victories in two major categories.

He received the Billabong XXL Biggest Wave award for a ride on a wave measured at 20 metres (61-feet) at Tafelberg Reef near Hout Bay in Cape Town in August 2008. In addition, he collected the Surfline Best Overall Performance award for his dedication in pursuing huge surf and competing in big wave events all over the world.

Jordy Smith tasted victory at the end of March in the O’Neill Cold Water Classic in Marrawah, Tasmania. He finished 2009 in 11th place on the elite ASP World Tour. Greg Emslie placed 31st and David Weare 43rd.

For the first time ever, two South African women qualified for the World Tour; following the 2009 Dream Tour, Rosanne Hodge and Nikita Robb secured their places on the 2010 Tour. Hodge was the star of South Africa’s team at the World Surfing Games, winning a silver medal as SA placed fifth overall.

Surf skiing

South African surf skiers excelled on the world stage in 2009.

Hank McGregor powered to victory in the Molokai Challenge, the unofficial world championship of surf skiing, to become the fourth South African winner of the famous race after Oscar Chalupsky, Herman Chalupsky, and Clint Pretorius.

Although Australian Tim Jacobs won the Dubai Shamaal, the world’s richest surf ski race, South Africans filled 10 of the top 20 places to underline the country’s strength in the sport.

Michelle Eray, who won all eight races she entered in the Surfski.info World Series, went unbeaten and was named the Surfski.info Paddler of the Year.

At home, SA paddlers dominated the Durban Surf Ski World Cup. Clint Pretorius won the men’s race as South Africans claimed the top five places. Michele Eray led the women home as South Africa again supplied the top five finishers.

In the new Investec Mauritius Ocean Classic, McGregor and Eray added further victories to their impressive list of successes.

Tennis

South Africa’s tennis team enjoyed a good run in the Davis Cup. After 5-0 whitewashes of Belarus and Macedonia, they had won 10 ties in succession, which set them up for a shot at playing in the prestigious World Group in 2010, if they could beat India in a promotion/relegation tie.

It was not to be, however, as the Indians won 4-1 in Johannesburg, but the defeat should not detract from the long run of success enjoyed by South Africa in the competition.

The South African Tennis Open continued its revival when it drew a strong field to the 2009 event, which took place at Montecasino in Johannesburg. France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga claimed the title with a 6-4, 7-6 win over his fellow countryman Jeremy Chardy.

Soweto hosted two events, the Soweto Men’s Open and the Soweto Women’s Open, and there was another French win in the men’s event with veteran Fabrice Santoro beating South Africa’s Rik de Voest 7-5, 6-4 in the title-decider.

The women’s victory went to Latvia’s Anastasia Sevastova, who romped to an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory over Eva Hrdinova of the Czech Republic in the final to claim the first title of her career.

Cycling

It was a good year for South African cyclists and cycling events.

Pietermaritzburg was the place to be for events, with the city hosting the UCI Mountain Bike (MTB) World Cup in April and the UCI BMX World Cup in August.

The MTB World Cup especially proved to be a huge success, both from the point of view of spectator support and from the point of view of results for South African competitors. Three-time overall World Cup champion Greg Minnaar, competing in his home town, thrilled the big crowds by taking a spectacular victory in the downhill. Burry Stander scored what was at that time a career-best third place in the cross-country.

While not as well supported as the MTB World Cup, the BMX World Cup went off smoothly, but the stakes will be much higher in 2010 and the crowds, no doubt, far larger when Pietermaritzburg hosts the World Championships.

For Burry Stander, it was a year to remember. After finishing third in the cross-country in Pietermaritzburg, he successfully defended his under-23 World Championship title in Canberra in early September. A week later, he scored the first World Cup win of his career in Champery, Switzerland.

Greg Minnaar was runner-up in the downhill at the World Championships, second by only five-hundredths of a second to his team-mate and friend Steve Peat. Apart from in Pietermaritzburg, Minnaar also won World Cup events in Fort William, Scotland and Bromont, Canada. He finished second in the overall standings.

South Africa picked up a third medal at the World Championships when Candice Neethling claimed third place in the junior cross country.

On the road, South Africa dominated the African Championships in Namibia, Daryl Impey earned a prestigious invite to join Lance Armstrong’s newly-formed Team Radioshack for 2010, while the country’s juniors enjoyed international success in Europe in a manner never before achieved by South African cyclists.

Athletics

South Africa produced two gold medallists at the World Championships in Berlin, with Caster Semenya and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi winning the women’s and men’s 800 metres respectively.

At the Global Games, which drew intellectually-impaired athletes from over 40 countries, South Africa finished third on the athletics medal table, picking up three gold, two silver and three bronze medals. Khanti Mncedi was the most successful of South Africa’s athletes, with an individual haul of two gold medals and one silver medal.

Dakar Rally

Giniel de Villiers, together with his German navigator, won the Dakar Rally – raced in Argentina and Chile!!- in January.

It was an excellent event for South Africans. De Villiers’ Volkswagen Touareg was first across the finishing line, with the second placed Tourareg including SA navigator Ralph Pithcford. Two Nissan Navara pick-ups, purpose built by Nissan Motorsport in South Africa for the rally, finished in fourth and fifth.

Wheelchair racing

Wheelchair racer Ernst van Dyk continued his remarkable record in the Boston Marathon when he won the world famous event, which attracts the world’s leading wheelchair athletes, for the eighth time in nine years. The Boston Herald headlined its story on the South African star, “Van Dyk an eighth wonder”. He shares the record for most wins with Irishwoman Jean Driscoll, but will go for a ninth victory in 2010.

Boxing

Brian Mitchell, who lost only one bout in his 49-fight boxing career, defended his WBA junior-lightweight title a world record 12 times between 1986 and 1991 when he retired. His excellence was recognised by the International Boxing Hall of Fame when he was inducted into it in June 2009.

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