South Africa’s top female Olympians

10 August 2016

Team South Africa has begun its Rio Olympics campaign this week, and among the 137 athletes competing this year are some of the country’s outstanding female athletes, representing a wide range of sporting disciplines. To celebrate Women’s Month, here is a look at five of the best.

Caster Semenya – athletics

Mokgadi Caster Semenya was born in Ga-Masehlong village, close to Polokwane, in 1991. Over the last six years she has become South Africa’s most high profile international athlete.

A natural middle-distance runner, Semenya is considered a world-class champion, winning gold in the 800 metres at the 2009 World Championships and silver medals at the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Summer Olympics. In Rio this year, she is on course for finally getting the gold medal.

While a controversial figure off the track, with debate about her sex causing her to leave competitive running until 2010. However, Semenya has silenced critics with world-class performances and a shy, humble demeanour that hides a fiery will to compete and win. British magazine New Statesman included Semenya in a list of 50 People That Matter 2010, calling her “an inspiration to gender campaigners around the world”.

In 2012, Semenya was awarded South African Sportswoman of the Year Award at the South African Sports Awards in Sun City. She received the bronze Order of Ikhamanga national honour in 2014, recognised for her contributions to South African sport.Her mind is now set on a Rio Olympics triumph this year, beginning her campaign for 800m gold on Wednesday, 17 August, with the whole of South African behind her.

Sunette Viljoen – athletics

South African javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen was born in 1983 in Johannesburg. She is a four-time African champion and two-time Commonwealth gold medallist. She narrowly missed out on the Olympic gold in London in 2012, but is back with renewed determination at this year’s Rio Games.

“I’ve grown emotionally over the last four years,” Viljoen told Time LIVE in July. “I am not tense or worried about results. My head and body are in complete harmony.

“As one of South African’s most experienced athletes, Viljoen credits her longevity to divine drive. “(My) incredible passion and drive… is something that can only come from God. I don’t know how to give up, only how to persevere.”

There will be a lot of support behind her, urging her on to get the gold this time around. Both her partner and daughter will be with her in Rio, cheering her along with all her South African fans to add another triumph to a distinguished athletics career.

“It would be the perfect ending for all the years in which I invested everything. If I reap the fruits, I would know it has all been worth it, including the biggest battle I have had to fight off the field in the past four years.”

Viljoen begins her Rio campaign on 17 August.

Bridgitte Hartley – sprint canoeing

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A surprise third-place in London in 2012 got the whole country talking about the then-unknown South African sprint canoeist Bridgitte Hartley. In Rio, she will be using South African fans as inspiration to go for the gold in the K1 Women’s 500m canoe sprint event on 17 August. She is looking forward to proving that her London bronze was no fluke.

Hartley understands the pressures and hard work that comes with succeeding at international level, telling Sport24 before she left for a preparation training camp in Brazil: “I am more critical of everything now than I was before London. I am trying to always improve and I get frustrated when I have a bad training session.”

The 33-year-old Johannesburg-born, self-described “optimistic blonde” wants to do more than just win the gold this time around; she wants to highlight her sport, particularly on the short events, which as many can attest, are as exciting and fierce as any land event.

Julia Vincent – diving

 

The 21-year-old Julia Vincent may be an Olympic newbie, but she is determined to grab a gold for South Africa in diving. She has been preparing for over two years, diving in the US as part of the University of South Carolina college team, where she earned the NCAA All-American title in the 1m dive.

Vincent will be participating in the 3m dive in Rio, having qualified at the Fina Diving World Cup in February with a 250-plus score. She will become the first female South African diver to participate at an Olympics since the 1950s.

Apart from her own event, Vincent is looking forward to experiencing Rio and the rest of the Games as a spectator, hoping to see the sights of one of the world’s most enigmatic cities and watch the men’s 100m athletics final, after she competes on 12 August.

Tsholofelo Thipe – athletics

Rustenburg-born 29-year-old Tsholofelo Thipe became one of the first black women to represent South Africa in a track event in the 400 metres at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. While she may have missed out on the London Games in 2012, she is back in Rio with even more determination.

“I want to make a mark and become someone the youth can look up to. I have unfinished business in the Olympics and God has answered my prayers to be in Rio,” Thipe told the Sowetan when the final South African team was announced in June.

She cites inspiration from other African female athletes, including Murielle Ahoure of Ivory Coast and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, two of Africa’s fastest female sprinters. “I have raced them in Europe before. I hope the Rio Olympics will help me to rise. My ultimate dream is to be in the final.

“Thipe will begin her heats on Saturday, 13 August.

Noko Matlou – football

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A 10-year career as one of Banyana Banyana’s dependable defenders has taken Noko Matlou to two Olympics, and she hopes Rio will be an opportunity to help get the team a gold medal. She has played more than 89 games for the national side, scoring 61 goals along the way, including six goals at the 2008 African Women’s Championship.

Later that year, Matlou became the first South African to be named the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Women’s Footballer of the Year.

Source: South African Sports Confederation and Olympic CommitteeSouthafrica.info reporterWould you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SouthAfrica.info material