Pinnacle of prowess

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st B LondonNU AP SPLENDID: A diver practises her routine ahead of tonights opening of the Olympics in London. Picture: Mark Duncan / AP

Kevin McCallum

London

On the top of South Africa House, overlooking Trafalgar Square, the words “Good Hope” adorn the building that just may be the most expensive real estate on South African “soil”.

Team SA are a squad that will take those two words to heart as they prepare to drag the sporting reputation of the country from the mire of one medal in Beijing in 2008.

SA House – diplomatic convention dictates that the land is the sovereign soil of the rainbow nation – played host to another official welcome for Team SA yesterday.

Sports minister Fikile Mbalula, with guests such as Sharlto Copley from District 9, and his girlfriend Tanit Phoenix, gave the keynote address.

It was a stirring eulogy that evoked the usual references to war, but also brought in the reminder of where SA has come from.

“We are the nation of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo,” he said in the small “Kinema” area of SA House. “I have visited the team in the village and have spoken to them. The rooms are good. The food is good. I want to thank the British people for the way they have welcomed our people.”

Copley said he was in London to shoot a movie called Magnificent with Angelina Jolie and had contacted the embassy to ask if he could meet the team at the function.

He spent a lot of time talking to the SA hockey team, who might have wished for a little of his “prawn strength” from the movie.

“I was a middle-distance runner when I was at school,” Copley said. Phoenix interjected: “I can see him running at the Olympics.” Copley played it down. “I was a good runner in school, I was okay, but ... I loved it.

“I’ve come here today because I want to meet some of the guys and get some of the buzz. It’s such a massive event and they are on the biggest stage of all time.”

Phoenix dated Roland Schoeman, SA’s three-time Olympic medallist, for a short spell.

“I was hoping to see him here. I sent him a message and he said he had to go to training.

“I’m on a bit of a holiday here now, but I’m hoping to see some of the events. We’ll get some tickets and watch. We’re both so proud of South Africa. I was a good swimmer in freestyle when I was young. I loved it.”

Sascoc 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. He suggested that SA could win 14.

“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.”

Mbalula said that despite the women’s football team losing 4-1 to Sweden on Wednesday night, they were not disheartened.

“(Portia) Modise scored a wonder goal,” he added.

“I told them that by qualifying for the Olympics they had already done great things for women’s sport and women’s rights.

“You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”

The Olympics will launch tonight with a razzmatazz show that will have Mbalula itching to dance and sing.

If he does sing, it will be a tune of “Good Hope”, for that is what his nation is praying for.


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