bitter-sweet year

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

The 2008 year was a bitter-sweet one for athletes and administrators in the country.

It was the year for the Olympics and Paralympics and our athletes were under the public spotlight to see how they would fare in Beijing in August and September.

Before we look at the lows and highs for local athletes, it would be folly not to confirm that 2008 belonged to Jamaican speedster Usain "Lightning" Bolt.

The 22-year-old stunned the sporting world with his record- breaking performances by completing the first Olympic golden sprint double in 24 years in China.

"I'm Lightning Bolt. I'm not Flash Gordon or anybody. My name is Lightning Bolt," said Bolt, after setting a world record 19,30 seconds in the 200m final, one of three records he set in Beijing.

Bolt also broke his own record in the 100 (9,69sec) and helped set a new fastest time in the 4x100m relay (37,10sec).

Back to South Africa's performance. Our able-bodied athletes went to Beijing with high hopes after an intensive training camp in Korea. Expectations at home were also raised by some impressive performances in the qualifying events in Europe.

But their performance at the Olympics was disheartening and cheerless.

We had 135 of them, including the internationally renowned swimmers such as Roland Schoeman and Ryk Neethling, hurdlers Louis "LJ" van Zyl and Alwyn Myburg, Mbulaeni "Silver Bullet" Mulaudzi and marathoner Hendrick Ramaala, but we only managed one medal.

It was a silver medal won by Khotso "Crocodile" Mokoena with a long jump distance of 8,24m in his fourth attempt in the final. The adored Mokoena finished 10cm behind gold medallist Irvin Saladino of Panama.

Apart from Mokoena, our other athletes were more like tourists who went to the Chinese capital for sight-seeing, making new friends and keeping themselves fit by taking part in the Games.

While the country was still smarting from the embarrassment caused by our athletes in the Olympics, our Paralympians managed to make all South Africans happy.

They amassed 30 medals of which 21 were gold, three silver and six bronze. They finished sixth overall in the medal standings.

Our stars in the Paralympics included swimming icon Natalie du Toit who won five gold medals, Oscar Pistorius, who grabbed three golds and Hilton Langenhoven who also won three golds.

It was fulfilling in China to hear spectators from other countries shouting the names of Pistorius at the Birds Nest stadium, the imposing arena where athletics was held.

Du Toit was equally popular at the Aquatics Centre where swimming events where staged.

Let us also state proudly that rising Limpopo star Caster Semenya and Wilhelm van der Vyver also made us proud at the Commonwealth Youth Games and IAAF World Junior Championships.

Semenya won gold in the 800m in Pune, India, while Van Vyver came second in the highly competitive 100m event in Bydgoszcz, Czech Republic.

We were also made proud in Zimbabwe where our athletes topped the medal podium in The Southern Region Junior Championships. Nombulelo Mkenku (sprinter), Willem Voight (high jump) and Patience Ntshingila (long jump) shone.

But our athletes once again disappointed the country at the yearly Nedbank Soweto Marathon on November 2.

Mmamorallo Tjoka, the un-asuming runner from Lesotho, won The People's Race for an unparalleled four times on the trot.

The last time a South African won the women's title was back in 2004. It was won by Charne Bosman (née Rademeyer).

Mluleki Nobanda was the last local athlete to win the men's section in 2001, and then the titles went to the Lesotho and Zimbabwean athletes.

The year also marked the election of new office bearers of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.

Gideon Sam, contrary to the expectations, beat the incumbent Moss Mashishi to the position of the presidency of this macro body after the quadrennial elections in September.

Sam beat Mashishi by three votes after the outgoing Triathlon South Africa president got 85 votes.

Mashishi was tipped to win after the influential Athletics South Africa (ASA) president Leonard Chuene threw his weight behind the businessman-turned-sports administrator.

Ironically, Chuene and Mashishi were engaged in an ugly public spat after the former lashed out at Mashishi for his failure to transform Sascoc. Mashishi and Sascoc colleagues were chiefly blamed for the country's poor performance in Beijing.

This also saw the outspoken chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on sport and recreation Butana "Computer" Komphela joining the fray.

Mashishi angered Parliament and the ANC MPs after Sascoc took a decision in August to boycott the committee's meeting until Komphela retracted racist statements that were attributed to him in the media.

He later wrote a letter in which he decried the statements attributed to Komphela as "racist, derogatory and utterly repugnant".

But the two later kissed and made up.

"We should look at the future and forget about what happened in the past. We can only learn from our mistakes to prepare for the future," Chuene said.

In his year-end message, Chuene said: "We would like to re-emphasise our commitment to all our athletes, and promise to do our best to support them. I would also want to thank all the clubs and provincial structures for their immeasurable contribution to our sport.

"Our structures are faced with many daily challenges.

"In order to thrive and succeed we need to channel more resources at club and provincial level."

Hopefully local athletes will come with a new resolve if not a resolution that says, "I will choose my races well and not just run week in, week out for the sake of cash", only to flop where it matters most.