CAPE TOWN – Olympic champion Tatjana Schoenmaker says she “embraces” her new-found popularity in South Africa after receiving a financial reward from a crowd-funding initiative on Thursday.
And surfing silver medallist Bianca Buitendag says she is so proudly South African that she sometimes irritates people by expressing her patriotic side.
Swimming star Schoenmaker and Buitendag were recipients of a crowd-funding initiative, Spansaam, which was kick-started by property developers Atterbury Property and sports nutrition company USN.
It was initially understood that Sascoc and the government would not be able to provide financial incentives for Team South Africa’s medallists and world record-holders at the Tokyo Olympics.
Since then, Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa provided details of the incentives for gold, silver and bronze medallists in the Team SA Olympic and Paralympic group – with the Olympians grabbing three medals (one gold and two silver), and the Paralympians seven (four gold, one silver and two bronze).
The SA Paralympic medallists and their coaches will be handed a total of R2.58 million from government, while the Olympic medallists will receive R1.31 million.
The Spansaam project, launched by the Atterbury Trust, had a target of R1.3 million, and managed to raise R1 049 410.
Schoenmaker got a cheque of R600 000, with her coach Rocco Meiring R150 000, with Buitendag receiving R200 000 and coach Greg Emslie R50 000, with the remaining R49 410 set to be donated to a government fund for sports, cultural or community initiatives.
“You don’t realise to what degree it is. I am driving a car with my name on it for a long while, but no one said anything. Now, since I’ve been back, every day there are a few people who stop me and wave,” laughed Schoenmaker, who won gold in the 200m breaststroke – where she also set a world record in the final – and silver in the 100m breaststroke, at the handover ceremony at the USN head offices in Irene, Centurion on Thursday.
“It is very special. It’s worth it when someone says she saw your car and followed you to just come and say hello. And then I ask her, how far are you following me for!
“So, it does become a little creepy, but we embrace it. There’s nothing more we can do or say to say thank you to everyone here to get this money to make a difference perhaps in other people’s lives too.”
Buitendag took silver in the first ever surfing competition at the Olympics, and has now retired and will put more effort into an NGO in George, Life Community Services.
“You just hope (the waves) it’s in your favour, and it’s definitely stressful. But I was just so happy to qualify and represent my beautiful country, so anything past the first round was like a gold medal to me,” Buitendag said.
“So, when someone asks me how it feels to get a silver medal, I think it’s a miracle in itself. I am very thankful, and appreciate this and all the support.
“I have been around the world in my career, and South Africa, in my personal opinion, is still the best place in the world. How you guys are paying it forward is something I would like to do. The school, Life Community Services, I have been involved in for 10 years already.
“I am so proudly South African that at times, people tell me to keep quiet because I irritate them with how proud I am. It is because of people like you in our society, and who I come into contact with on a daily basis, and support in every manner – messages and financial as well – it is the reason why I am so proud to be South African. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.”