GLASGOW: Yesterday morning, in the centre of Glasgow, in a room panelled with wood from Africa, the talk was of South Africa taking home as many of the Glasgow-made medals as possible.
The breakfast at the Trades Hall in Glassford Street yesterday morning was held to celebrate the medals won by South Africa’s judo and triathlon teams. Some hours later, the women’s fours team won another gold for Team South Africa at the Kelvingrove lawn bowls park. And not long after them, before they had knocked the head off their first drinks, Colleen Piketh beat Catherine McMillen of Northern Ireland in the singles for lawn bowls’ third medal here.
The judo and triathlon teams returned home yesterday with new heroes and dreams of Rio in 2016. Zack Piontek, from Pretoria, has a gold medal in the 90kg category and his best years ahead of him. His name is made for headlines, but comes from a strange place.
“I asked my dad a few years ago where my name comes from,” said Piontek.
“Remember the Afrikaans programme ‘Vetkoek Paleis’? My dad saw that one of the actors was named Zack (Du Preez) and he liked the name. Strange, but true.”
Piontek is no vetkoek, and he had the best cure for shutting up a noisy Scottish crowd when he fought Scot Matthew Purssey on Saturday. “Every time he moved, they cheered him. So, I made a move to throw him and almost got it, and they went quiet. All you could hear was a massive cheer from the small group of South Africans in the corner.”
Susan Nel, Esme Steyn, Santjie Steyn and Tracy-Lee Botha won their gold the hard way, overcoming two early defeats in their three section matches and silencing Scotland in the semi-finals. They only qualified for the quarter-finals because of a better shot difference. The final against Malaysia was a rollercoaster for the four, as they went three up after the first end, but could only record a single win in the next eight ends. Malaysia were 9-4 ahead going into the 10th end, but South Africa found their touch to win 14-9.
“I think we played well,” said Nel. “The whole team stayed focused, which was important given how we had come through the section matches. We were using the swing of the green as it wasn’t conducive to the straight bowl. We started to play more aggressive bowls after the section matches because on heavy greens like these, you cannot bowl it deadweight. You have to get it to the end.”
If Team South Africa had bankers for gold medals at these games, then Chad le Clos in the 200m butterfly and Cameron van der Burgh in the 100m breaststroke would have been the very men to put their money on. Le Clos was untouchable in the 200m fly on Saturday night, but Van der Burgh said he had “blocked” in the final 25 metres to finish second behind Adam Peaty of England, who broke the Commonwealth Games record.
“It went alright. It was different than what was expected. It was a lot harder. Last night was very, very easy, and then I just seized up in the last 25 metres. I blocked,” said Van der Burgh. “It’s back to the drawing board. We tried to change a few things. That’s how things go. You can’t always win.
“I’m disappointed, but not as much as I think that I should be. I was coming into the race expecting a big duel with (Australian Christian) Sprenger, and it was unfortunate he couldn’t be in the final. At the end of the day, the juniors showed the old ballies a thing or two. At least I have motivation for the next year or two to get working hard again.”
Van der Burgh struggled to explain the block, saying it was the first time it had happened in his career. “I think I had to work too much for the speed, so in the sense that to go out 27.3 (for the first lap) was a lot harder than what it has been the previous years. If you are working a lot harder to get your speed, then you are spending a lot more energy. When I turned ahead, I thought I had it for sure. In the warm-up, we were looking better than we did at the Olympics. Things don’t always go to plan, like I said, but rather this year than any other year.”