Team SA taking shape for London 2012
21 February 2012
The countdown to the start of the London Olympic Games on 27 July and the Paralympics on 29 August is on, and Team South Africa is beginning to take shape.
At a press conference on Monday, Deputy Sport and Recreation Minister Gert Oosthuizen said that the support that the Springboks and Bafana Bafana receive in big tournaments should be emulated for the Olympians and Paralympians.
He said that R400-million had been received over the past three years from the National Lottery Fund to support the athletes, which was a massive improvement over the R90-million the team received for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) had also contributed R60-million.
Last week, at a press conference held at Olympic House in Johannesburg, Sascoc outlined the run-in to the Olympic Games, taking place from 27 July to 12 August, and the Paralympics, from 29 August to 9 September.
'Very exciting times'
"These are very exciting times both for us at Sascoc and the general South African sport public," said Sascoc CEO Tubby Reddy. "A vast amount of work has gone into ensuring that the final teams chosen for South Africa at the Olympics and Paralympics represent the best of sporting talent across the nation.
"I urge all South Africans to throw their weight behind this team and boost them as they take on the world in London."
Sascoc High Performance General Manager Ezera Tshabangu outlined the reasoning behind team selection, and also explained the difference between Sascoc policies and those of the various international federations and the International Olympic Committee.
"Currently we have 30 athletes who have already qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games," said Tshabangu. "These come from five different sporting codes, namely women's football, rowing, athletics, canoeing and road cycling.
"The bulk come from football (18), while rowing have six (four men, two women), athletics four (three men and one woman in the marathon), one slot in the road cycling, and a women's K1 canoeist."
A function was held aboard the British frigate HMS Montrose recently to celebrate 200 days until the start of the Paralympics, where Sascoc president Gideon Sam urged the country's para-athletes to do their country proud at this year's Paralympic Games.
"Our Paralympic athletes have a reputation for both their spirit, or 'gees' as we call it here in South Africa, and their sporting toughness," Sam said. "At the last Paralympics in Beijing four years ago we sent a team of 66 athletes. They returned home with no fewer than 30 medals and among those were 21 golds.
"Our para-athletes do things from the heart," Sam said. "Compared to the big nations our funding is small, but they continue to give their utmost. I really implore South Africans to dig deep and help in whatever way they can.
"But these same athletes wouldn't even be here at all if it wasn't for the generosity of our ever-loyal sponsors. It's them that have made it possible for our athletes to concentrate on their training and sharpening their skills and techniques as the Games approach."
Paralympic medal winners
Among the para-athletes present on board HMS Montrose were treble gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, Hilton Langenhoven, gold medallists Ilse Hayes and Charl Bouwer, and fellow Paralympians Fanie van der Merwe and Zanele Situ.
"It's getting very exciting now that we're actually into the Paralympic year," said Van der Merwe, who represented Team South Africa at the All Africa Games in Mozambique last year. "Now it's just all about making sure you're training well and are ready."
"The country is certainly due for some feel-good stories," said Sam. "I'm very much of the belief that our Paralympic team will be able to deliver us those stories."
South Africa has produced some of the most memorable Paralympian athletes in history, including Oscar Pistorius and Natalie du Toit, both of whom have also excelled in able-bodied competition.
The national men's wheelchair basketball team has booked its place at the Paralympics after coach Patrick Fick's men won their African qualifying event in Morocco late last year. Pistorius, meanwhile, has further entrenched himself as a Paralympics legend after winning the prestigious Laureus World Sportsperson with a Disability Award in London earlier this month.
National team mascot
The South African public is currently busy with the all-important task of choosing a national team mascot for all multicoded games going forward from the Olympic Games, and a shortlist of the candidates is expected to be known in the near future.
Then, on 29 February, Beijing Olympics silver medallist Khotso Mokoena will demonstrate the slick new identification being used for athletes and officials at this year's Games. Known as the Leap on Leap Year, Mokoena will take the plunge and undergo his biometric testing process on the leap year date.
Other important dates will be an international Women's Day high tea on 8 March at the British High Commissioner's residence, while South Africa's Paralympic contenders will be in action at the South Africa Sports Association for Physically Disabled Championships in Durban from 24 to 28 March.
An eagerly awaited date will be 4 April, when Team SA's official kit for the Olympics and Paralympics will be made public.
On Monday, Sam once again urged the need for financial backing for Team South Africa. "I cannot emphasise strongly enough how much we need to keep our resources from drying up now when we need it most.
"Some of our major codes are battling financially, and Swimming South Africa may need to retrench people at this crucial time," Sam said. "The hockey federation is also hobbling badly, and this at a time when our national women's and men's teams are about to embark on their final qualifying bid for the Games.
"I know we rely largely on the Lotto for funding and I'm appealing to them to be more accommodating at this vital time in our sporting calendar. To this end I'm re-emphasising our support for the Sports Minister's drive to implement the resolutions made at the Sports Indaba last year. The sooner we all read from the same book the sooner we'll get regular funding and support across the board."
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