London: Team South Africa couldn’t have timed things better if they had tried. Today, on women’s day back in their home country, women will be the athletes to watch as they look to add to their medal haul.
Bridgette Hartley will be the first in action at 11.15am, rated as a good medal chance in the 500-metre kayak sprint. Almost 12 hours later, Sunette Viljoen, is ranked third in the javelin final after the qualification round. Jessica Roux will take part in the 10km marathon open water swim, but all eyes will, once again, be on Caster Semenya, as she lines up in the 800m semi-finals.
To give them a little more motivation, the South African cricket team visited the Olympic Village yesterday. Faf du Plessis, Jacques Rudolph, Vernon Philander, Alviro Petersen, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Thami Tsolekile, Robbie Peterson and Dale Steyn arrived in London ahead of next week’s Test at Lord’s. They chatted to LJ van Zyl, Semenya and some of the women’s hockey team before watching the hockey semi-final between the Netherlands and New Zealand.
It has been a man’s world for South Africa thus far at the Olympics. Indeed, it has been a man’s world since the 2004 Games in Athens, when Hestrie Cloete took silver in the high jump. Today South Africa welcomed back the first wave of medal winners from the London Olympics, with Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos touching down on home soil for the first time in over three months. They had left on a pre-Olympics trip that had taken in competitions around Europe, including a training camp in Monaco thanks to the generosity of Princess Charlene, the former Benoni girl.
Semenya qualified comfortably yesterday morning in the first heat of the 800m, finishing strongly behind Alysia Johnson Montano in a shade over two minutes. She will have to run under two minutes if she is to make an impact in tonight’s semi-finals, but she looks to have her race face on. She was warmly applauded by the capacity crowd at the Olympic stadium, and was then coy with the press afterwards, stopping only for the briefest of chats.
“The race went OK and (Alysia) Montano went fast from the first lap,” said Semenya. “Other than that it was a tactical race and I wanted the race to be a fast one. It is very important to get this out the way. To win I know that I will probably have to go sub two minutes ...”
Today Oscar Pistorius will get another feel of the OLympic track as he and the South African 4x400m team attempt to repeat their performance in last year’s world championships when they took silver.