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The sporting achievements of the SA cricket team and golfer Ernie Els have laid the foundation for Team SA at the Olympic Games, which open officially in London tonight.
This was the message from Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula to Team SA yesterday during an address at the SA High Commission’s welcoming of the team to London.
The country – which won just one medal in Beijing in 2008 – would not back out of its goal of winning 12 medals, he said.
Top prospects include swimmers Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Close. The highest-profile South African athlete is double amputee runner Oscar Pistorius.
“I say to the president (Jacob Zuma), we stick to our guns, we know our preparations,” Mbalula said. “We are here to make South Africa proud.”
Last weekend, the Proteas beat England by a resounding innings and 12 runs in the first Test with Hashim Amla scoring a record-breaking 311 not out – the highest Test score by a South African.
Els won the British Open.
“There is no better place to beat the English than on their own terrain, and our cricket team led from the front,” he said.
Mbalula said that despite the women’s football team losing 4-1 to Sweden on Wednesday night, they were not disheartened.
“I told them that by qualifying for the Olympics they had already done great things for women’s sport and women’s rights.”
Sascoc (the SA Olympic committee) president Gideon Sam had been in London all of four hours before the function, and he was in no mood to back down from his claim of 12 medals from the Games. He suggested SA should win 14 medals.
“What are we without dreams? What would you think of me if I backed down and said we would only win four medals, as some are suggesting? I still stick to my plan that South Africa will be able to won 12 medals. I’m not going to put a limit on it and not on this team.”
Meanwhile, office workers paused on their way to their desks to watch the Olympic flame weave its way through central London yesterday before it moved on to some of the city’s most famous landmarks.
The flame will officially launch the Games when it lights the Olympic cauldron this evening in Stratford.
Confounding initial cynicism, more than 10 million people have turned out to watch the flame during its 70-day tour of Britain, eliciting pride and a sense of occasion.
Organisers have used some of the country’s most famous landmarks as a backdrop to the torch relay in the hope of luring visitors to Britain.
Adding another hiccup to preparations, the official shopping centre apologised yesterday for its “Welcome to London” banners in Arabic that read backwards.
The banners at the giant Westfield Stratford City complex – at the main entrance to the Olympic Park in east London – were also written with spaces between the letters, making them even more difficult to decipher.
At first glance, the banners appeared so alien to some Arabic speakers that they thought they were written in Farsi.
“There was incorrect printing on the Arabic version,” a spokeswoman said. “Westfield apologised and pulled all the signs immediately. It was through the printing procedure that something went awry.
The apology comes after the Olympic sporting action began with a blunder on Wednesday when North Korea’s women’s football team briefly refused to play after being shown on a video screen next to the South Korean flag.
* The opening will be shown on SABC 2 at 9.30pm.