Team South Africa on song at Olympics

3 August 2012

Day six of the London Olympic Games was another successful one for Team South Africa as they added a third gold medal to their tally and produced more strong performances in the pool – with Chad le Clos setting himself up for another shot at Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly final.

The gold medal won in rowing by the men’s lightweight fours was an unexpected but deserved reward for the University of Pretoria crew of Matthew Brittain, Lawrence Ndlovu, John Smith and James Thompson, who triumphed in a wonderfully tight race in which four teams were in with a shot at a medal right until the end.

Their victory reminds one of Josiah Thugwane’s win in the men’s marathon in Atlanta in 1996. Few knew who he was when he captured gold, but now his name remains locked into the memories of South African sports fans. In a similar way, so too will the names of Brittain, Ndlovu, Smith and Thompson take on similar meaning and be remembered in South Africa from now on.

What a champion does

In the swimming pool, Chad le Clos continued to do what a champion does: raise his game when the chips are down.

Contesting the semi-finals of the 100 metres butterfly, after having swum the fastest qualifying time in the heats of 51.54, a South African record, he looked out of the running after the first 50 metres of the second semi-final race, turning in fifth place.

Yet, much like he did in snatching the gold in the 200m butterfly, he powered his way back towards the front over the final 50 metres.

Still, he looked like he was in trouble and then somehow, after a furious finish, in almost a carbon copy of his victory in the 200m, he touched the wall first in a career best and South African record time of 51.42.

This time there was no big celebration, just a nod to say job done, now for the final.

Le Clos vs Phelps

Le Clos will once again take on Michael Phelps in the medal deciding race. The American, who claimed his 16th Olympic gold medal earlier in the evening in the 200m individual medley, was the fastest qualifier with an excellent time of 50.86 seconds. The 20-year-old South African’s time was second best.

Phelps will be the favourite to add to his gold medal tally, but the thing with Le Clos is he keeps taking a step up and producing his best when it counts. Such is his belief in his abilities, and the belief of his supporters in those abilities, that it would not come as a surprise if he challenges Phelps for the gold again.

To win, he will need to swim a faster first 50 metres and to finish like he did in the semi-finals. He could do it.

50m freestyle

Two South Africans, Gideon Louw and Roland Schoeman, contested the semi-finals of the 50 metres freestyle.

The first semi produced the faster of the two winnings times, with Cullen Jones and defending champion Cesar Cielo dead-heating in 21.54 seconds for the win. Louw touched in fifth place in 21.92.

Brazil’s Bruno Fratus, with a powerful burst over the last 15 metres, took victory in the second semi in 21.63, ahead of George Bovell, who had been fastest in the heats.

Roland Schoeman touched in fourth place in 21.88. That left him tied with Australia’s Eamon Sullivan for the seventh best time, giving him a place in the final for the third Olympics in succession. Louw, meanwhile, missed out on the final by one place.

Roland Schoeman

Now 32, Schoeman’s achievements are sometimes overlooked, but he is truly one of South Africa’s greatest swimmers ever. London 2012 is his fourth Olympic Games. His first were 12 years ago in Sydney when he made it to the semi-finals of the 50m freestyle.

In 2004, at the Athens Olympics, he won a gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle, a silver in the 100m freestyle, and a bronze in the 50m freestyle. The following year he won World Championship titles in the 50m freestyle and butterfly. He is the short course world record holder in the 50m freestyle in a barely believable time of 20.30 seconds.

Women’s 200m breaststroke

Suzaan van Biljon swam in the final of the women’s 200m breaststroke. It turned out to be the fastest race ever seen in that event.

Van Biljon took it out strongly from the start and led after 50 metres, but there was going to be no stopping Rebecca Soni, who had set a world record of 2:20.00 in the semi-finals. She was out to become the first woman to break the 2:20-barrier.

Soni turned first at 100m, but she was pushed far harder than in her semi-final. Van Biljon was in second, 0.41 behind the American.

At 150m, Van Bijlon had slipped back to fourth and after 200 metres she ended in seventh place in 2:23.72. It had been a bold and brave effort from the South African in a race against a very strong field to take it out so fast. Ultimately it did not pay off.

Soni, meanwhile, won gold and broke 2:20.00, touching the wall in 2:19.59, ahead of Japan’s Satoshi Suzuki, who equalled the Asian record in 2:20.72, and Iulia Efimova, who set a European record of 2:20.92.

Karin Prinsloo was in action in the semi-finals of the 200m backstroke. She went out at a good pace, but was unable to hold onto her early position of third after 50 metres as she finished eighth in 2:11.74

Women’s hockey

The South African women’s hockey team remained winless after going down 2-0 to world number three Germany. Although the Germans enjoyed the better of the clash, Giles Bonnet’s charges put up stiff opposition.

Had they been more composed in the final third of the field when on attack, with the final pass often looking as if it was hit more in hope than aimed at a specific player, it could have been an even closer match.

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