Before they finally won their first gold medal of the Olympic Games, Great Britain (and Northern Ireland, never forget them) were anxious. Where was their gold medal? We want a gold medal, they sang, on the inside, with their lips almost moving as much as my friend’s wife after that incident with the rum and gnome. All we are saying, is give us a gold medal, they probably sang. They wanted to hear some heavy medal music.
After the South African lightweight four had stunned the rowing world and annoyed English television commentators in the best possible way, a friend of mine, Alex Brown, who is, at the time of going to press, in case he has decided to change jobs for the umpteenth time, rather big in sport in a newspaper group in Sydney, sent me a tweet to ask: “Brother, can you spare us a gold?”
Australia have been struggling for golds at these games. They had 10 medals, but just one gold. I told Brown that Team South Africa were making up for Beijing. “Fine,” he tweeted. “Can you spare a green jacket then?” That we could do. Gary Player has a few spare. He also has the only Masters jacket to be found outside Augusta, if Player is to be believed, after he convinced them to let him take it back to South Africa to show the country and never bothered taking it back.
It may have changed by the time you read this, but South Africa were above Great Britain and Australia in the medal tables, hitting a high of eighth overall. The fantastic four who won gold yesterday caused all sorts of consternation both in London and in South Africa. James Cracknell, the former Olympic champion was furious that the organisers hadn’t taken the wind into account and allowed Great Britain (who had two Northern Irish rowers on the boat), the favourites and quickest qualifiers, to row on the nice side of the course. Even when his co-commentator was congratulating the team and saying how impressed he was that Lawrence Ndlovu, as a black man, had won gold in a predominantly white sport (despite a lot of black rowing teams here including that lad from Niger who thought he was at Zoo Lake after having a skinful down at the bowls club), Cracknell grudgingly said it was good, but that “it should have been silver”. Suck it up, buddy.
Back in South Africa, editors and sub-editors around the country lathered themselves up from tubes of cliché cream and prepared to either squeeze or stretch the words “Oarsome Foursome” across the top of the front page. The problem with writing for a group with 14 titles around the country is that each of them are rather territorial. If an athlete is from Pretoria, the headline will be, “City man wins gold”. Ten minutes after he had won, I received an email to tell me that Ndlovu had received some education in Pretoria. Ndlovu was born in Johannesburg and partially brought up in Newcastle and went to high school in Joburg.
To cater for them all, I suggest I write the intro: “Ndlovu, the boy from Gauteng who became a man in Pretoria and had his first Campari in Cape Town, felt the magic of his 2007 holiday in Umhlanga seep through his bones as he powered to gold yesterday.” That should just about cover it.
It has been a strange and good time to be a South African in London these past few, post-goldrush days. Another Aussie mate, who I last saw at the Beijing Games, walked on to the media shuttle, greeted me and announced to me that today would be a big day for me at the rowing because “New Zealand were really going well”. “Yeah, Crash, but I’m from South Africa.” “Bugger,” he said. “Sorry about that. Of course. I knew that.”
It’s a common fault. On Tuesday, Reuters thought that Chad le Clos was from France when they announced his victory on Twitter. They quickly corrected it to “South Africa”. They could be forgiven. It was a surprise. The gold medal rush has taken us all by surprise. Pedal to the medal, baby.