South Africa's 2011 sporting highlights23 December 2011 Looking back over the past sporting year for South Africa, one sport stands out above any others: South African golfers enjoyed a superb year and, despite their wonderful record over the years, may have reached new heights. The 2010/11 season began with long-time star Ernie Els winning the South African Open, but it evolved into the clear-cut announcement of a new generation of South African stars ready to make their mark on the world stage. After Els came Louis Oosthuizen, the winner of The Open Championship in 2010, who claimed the Africa Open in East London, an event co-sanctioned by the Sunshine and European Tours.
Most significant victory of 2011Charl Schwartzel was next into the winner's circle, successfully defending his Joburg Open title. He then went on to record what was arguably the most significant victory by a South African sportsperson in 2011, by capturing the 75th US Masters at Augusta by two strokes after closing with a stunning four birdies in succession. Thomas Aiken (Spanish Open), Garth Mulroy (Alfred Dunhill Championship), and Hennie Otto (South African Open) added further wins in European Tour events , while the only South African winner on the PGA Tour was not Ernie Els or Retief Goosen, it was Rory Sabbatini, who won the Honda Classic in March. Els, though, received a massive honour when he joined the legendary Gary Player in the World Golf Hall of Fame in May. At the time, he had 62 career titles to his name, including two US Opens and one Open Championship.
Simon's successAnd it was not only the men that excelled. Ashleigh Simon showed that she has what it takes by capturing her second Ladies European Tour title in May, winning the Portugal Ladies Open by three shots. South African golf scored a major coup when it was announced in April that the country would host a World Golf Championship event from 2012. The tournament will feature the world's top 70 players and prize money will be in the region of $10-million. While golf was the sport that stood out most for South Africans, there were plenty of other performances and achievements to celebrate. In swimming, the future was also revealed as Chad le Clos captured the overall Fina/Arena World Cup title, following in the footsteps of Ryk Neethling and Cameron van der Burgh. Le Clos and van der Burgh should lead South Africa's medal hopes in the pool at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The world's finest all-round paddlerOut on the water, Hank McGregor confirmed his status as the finest all-round paddler in the world when he claimed the 2011 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships K1 title in Singapore in October. He had earned a hat-trick of titles in the Fish River Canoe Marathon earlier in the month with Grant van der Walt. In July, he romped to a record eighth win in the Berg River Canoe Marathon, rated by many as the toughest race of its kind in the world. Prior to that, he had secured his third Surfski World Cup title off Durban in July. He also began the year with a successful defence of his Drak Challenge title.
Back-to-back in J-BaySuperstar surfer Jordy Smith's year was disrupted by injury, but he still finished inside the top 10 of the world rankings despite missing two events, and he went back-to-back in once again winning the prestigious Billabong Pro in Jeffreys Bay. Bianca Buitendag topped the world's best in January when she lifted the Billabong ASP Women's World Junior Championships in New South Wales, Australia. South Africa produced another world champion when the Rainbow Nation defeated neighbours Zimbabwe 29-18 in the final of the Polocrosse World Cup to finish the event unbeaten. Jan-Albert Steenkamp was named the best male player of the tournament. Orlando Pirates were the story of the year in South African football, claiming a hat-trick of titles by winning the Absa Premier League, the Nedbank Cup, and the MTN 8. Astonishingly, the club later parted ways with coach Ruud Krol!
World recordThere was a world record for striker Pietie Coetzee, who became the all-time leading goal scorer in women's international hockey at the FIH Champions Challenge in Dublin when she netted four goals in South Africa's 5-5 draw with the USA which took her career tally to an incredible 222 goals in 224 tests. South African rugby produced a world beater in Sevens Stars Cecil Afrika who was recognised by the International Rugby Board as the World Sevens Player of the Year in October. He was both the top try scorer and top points scorer in the HSBC World Sevens Series. With Afrika to the fore, the South African Sevens team enjoyed a good season, finishing second in the overall standings and winning three tournaments – in Las Vegas, London and Edinburgh - including the last two of the season back-to-back.
Currie Cup surpriseWhile the Springboks didn't make the World Cup final in New Zealand, referee Craig Joubert did, and when the Springboks returned they couldn't do enough to stop the Lions, a team with few Boks in their line-up, from capturing their first Currie Cup title since 1999 and their first at home since 1950 with a 42-16 thrashing of the defending champion Sharks. The Proteas again fell disturbingly short of success in a major ICC event when they were surprisingly defeated by New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, but they produced one of the most memorable victories of the year in the sport when they beat Australia in the first test in Cape Town in November. After being skittled for only 96 in their first innings, the Proteas trailed Australia by 188 runs on the first innings, but in an extraordinary turn of events they then ran roughshod through the Australian batting, dismissing the visitors for 47 after having them on 21 for 9 at one stage. South Africa went on to win by eight wickets in an incredible match that lasted only three days.
World's best test bowlerIndividually, Dale Steyn ended the year a runaway leader at the top of the test bowling rankings, with Morne Morkel in third place. Jacques Kallis was the leading all-rounder and second in the batting rankings. Hashim Amla was number one in the one-day international batting rankings. South African tennis enjoyed a good year as the sport experienced something of a revival, thanks to its top singles players. Kevin Anderson won the South African Open in February and made impressive progress up the world rankings during the year, ultimately finishing it in 32nd place, having peaked at 30th in October. Chani Scheepers became the first South African woman since Amanda Coetzer in 2003 to win a WTA Tour event when she lifted the Wanlima International Women's Open in Guanzhou, China, in September. On the very same weekend, Natalie Grandin secured her first WTA Tour doubles title when she and the Czech Republic's Vladimira Uhlirova won the Hansol Korea Open.
IAAF medal winnersSouth African athletes performed well at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Although they won only four medals, that was enough to place them seventh on the medals table in terms of medals won. The men's 4 by 400 relay team of Shane Victor, Ofentse Mogawane, Willie de Beer, and LJ van Zyl shocked their more fancied opponents by racing to a silver medal in the final. Paralympics star Oscar Pistorius also picked up a silver as he had been part of the South African team that contested the heats. No athlete with a disability had previously won a medal at the IAAF World Championships. Caster Semenya attained her best form since she won the World Championships in Berlin in 2009 when she too won silver, once more in the 800 metres. Sunette Viljoen captured a bronze medal in the greatest women's javelin competition in history, recording an African record 68.38 metres. LJ van Zyl added a bronze medal in the 400 metres hurdles in which Cornel Fredericks finished fifth. Comrades Marathon winner Stephen Muzhingi of Zimbabwe made his mark when he became the first man since Bruce Fordyce in the 1980s to win the race three years in a row, while Russia's Elena Nurgalieva recorded her sixth win.
Epic championSouth African cyclists and cycling events continued to excel. The country produced its first winner of the Absa Cape Epic when Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser of Switzerland claimed a convincing victory. Stander also won the African Mountain Bike Championships and the South African Marathon title. Pietermaritzburg was awarded a leg of the UCI World Cycling Tour and hosted the Mzunduzi Road Challenge for the first time in October. The race will in 2012 serve as the UCI World Cycling Tour Final.
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