Four hours, nine minutes and 43 seconds after the Boston Marathon had begun on Monday, 78-year old Bill Iffrig was metres away from finishing. Then came the first blast. His legs buckled as the shockwave hit him on one of the blackest days for sport, and he fell.
The man next to him turned to his right and looked at where the blast had come from, unsure of what had just happened. He kept on running, looking behind him all the while. Iffrig lay on the ground in Boylston Street, stunned. The picture of him looking up as four Boston police officers run around and to him, one with her gun drawn, another holding a radio and another looking shocked, is now the iconic shot of the Boston bombing. It was taken by John Tlumacki of The Boston Globe.
It takes a lot to become numb to the weirdness that is the administration of South African sport. Yet on Saturday, at Olympic House, the home of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), it took on a weirdness that may have made the producers of the Game of Thrones look on in envy. Around every corner was a twist, in every dark nook a sharp knife and at the end of every fingertip a court writ waiting to be served.
Here’s how Saturday’s general meeting of the council, the federations of Sascoc, rolled.
This week, Peter Sagan, possibly the fastest man on two wheels, apologised to the podium girl whose bottom he pinched at the Tour of Flanders at the end of last month.
He presented Maja Leye with flowers and a personal apology before the Brabantse Pijl race on Wednesday, which he then went on to win.
Leye, who is a professional podium girl it seems, then gave Sagan the traditional kiss on his right cheek, while a brunette kissed his left cheek, which Sagan, true to his reputation as a “naughty boy” made a big deal of by pointing at the two girls on either side of them.
And, although, he didn’t intend to, he managed to further strengthen the argument to rid cycling – and other sports – of the sexist tragedy that is the podium girl.
On Thursday last week, in front of the grass embankment at the Wanderers and with only a handful of people watching, Imran Tahir, whose fielding is not his biggest strength, took a catch so magnificent it burnt on to the pupils of all watching it. The ball had been pumped up high in the air by an assistant coach. Tahir took six steps forward before he realised he needed to take at least three of them backwards. He turned, put in a big stretch, stuck out an arm and held on to the ball.
Cue celebrations from the group of players he had been conducting fielding training with, with one, Rassie van der Dussen I think it was, hugging the spinner, and high fives all round. From where he was smacking balls at Gulam Bodi, Geoffrey Toyana, the coach of the Bizhub Highveld Lions, looked up briefly and laughed. There were smiles all around the Wanderers last Thursday. It was a happy team, a contented, confident one, comfortable with each other and still focused on their jobs. It seemed like a cricketing and coaching utopia. The atmosphere, by common assent, has been created and sustained by Toyana, the first black coach of a major cricket franchise in South Africa.
Cameron van der Burgh is going to have to do some work on his hair. It’s too short. It doesn’t bounce. It has a bit of shine, but not the silky, feline bounce you’d expect from a man who is the new face, er, hair of Head & Shoulders, the biggest-selling shampoo in the world.
Van der Burgh needs to flounce into rooms. He needs to be able to push his hand through his hair in one of those post-shower moments that make models whimper in envy and simper in longing. At the announcement of his new partnership with the brand, held at a venue called The Venue in Morningside, Van der Burgh confessed he’d had his hair cut the day before. “The guy cut it too short,” he said. “I told him I just wanted a trim, but he took a little too much off around the sides.”
He looked sleek, though, and, happily, dandruff free. He is the first South African ambassador for the brand. Michael Phelps is the man the shampoo uses in their United States campaigns. Other Head & Shoulders ambassadors include Manny Pacquiao, Mark Cavendish, Lionel Messi, Jenson Button and Shahid Afridi. Expect to see Van der Burgh on a television screen near you soon. It’s deserved recognition for Van der Burgh. Swimmers usually don’t make a good living in South Africa. They struggle from meet to meet, hoping for their federation to be able to raise the funds to send them to events and pay for training. Van der Burgh is not affected by Swimming South Africa’s current financial malaise as he is part of Sascoc’s Opex programme and has his costs met, but making a living from the sport is hard.
Ryk Neethling showed that a swimmer could make money when he returned from the Athens Olympics as a gold medal winner. He became the face for big-name sponsors, invested in swimming clubs and learnt marketing. He is now the agent for Van der Burgh, and the London Olympic gold medallist now has deals with Investec, Audi, Tag Heuer, USN and Arena. What you see is what you get with Van der Burgh. There’s an honesty and openness about him that is endearing. This week, in keeping with Head and Shoulders’ building “confidence” brand message he spoke of how he had lacked confidence as a kid. He had been put on Ritalin for his ADHD, but one day his mother walked into his room and found him staring at the wall. They decided to chuck out the medications and use sport to teach him focus.
It worked. It worked rather well, and now it is paying off. One of the nicest men you will meet is reaping some of the rewards that he is due. But, he’s far from perfect. “Yeah, I’m going to have work on getting some bounce,” he laughed. “My hair needs some BMT.”