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Silver surfer Bianca Buitendag slays giants to reach Games podium

David Isaacson Sports reporter
Bianca Buitendag in action at the Tokyo Olympics.
Bianca Buitendag in action at the Tokyo Olympics.
Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Semi-retired surfer Bianca Buitendag from the sleepy city of George stunned the world as she scooped Olympic silver at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old Victoria Bay local felled the third and second seeds on her way to the final, where she was downed by No.1 Carissa Moore of the US, who created magic on typhoon-driven waves at Tsurigasaki beach.

She is only the second SA woman in history to win an Olympic gong outside of athletics and swimming. Kayaker Bridgitte Hartley was the first at London 2012.

And Buitendag is also SA’s darkest horse to have made an Olympic podium, with most medallists having gone into battle ranked highly in the world.

And if the national sports federations had not forced the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) to change its stiff selection policy for Tokyo in late 2019, Buitendag would not have been eligible for selection.

She would have watched the spectacle on TV, instead of standing on surfing’s first-ever Olympic podium, with the sport having made its Games debut in Japan.

On top of that she also struggled to train at the beginning of the year, when beaches were off-limits because of lockdown restrictions.

But she was a giant-killer in this tournament, seeing off Australia’s No.3 seed Stephanie Gilmore in the third round and No.2 seed Caroline Marks of the US in the semifinals.

Buitendag had beaten Moore five times in eight outings before, but the Olympic final wasn’t to be.