Clinton van der Berg.

For poor South Africans fed a steady diet of sporting failure these past few weeks, there is some relief.

Breathless dispatches from Paris report that South Africa won the Grannies Cup, taking out France by a whopping 10 goals to nil in an exhibition match squeezed into the women’s soccer World Cup.

Innah Ngomane, a 62-year-old grandmother of 10, slotted four, which might have got Stuart Baxter’s attention.

Who says South Africans can’t be winners?

History and tradition dictates that the sporting temperature of South Africa is often determined by the big three of cricket, soccer and rugby.

If this was strictly true, we should be shattered, given the grim recent form of the Proteas, our Super Rugby teams, Banyana Banyana, Bafana Bafana and our Under-20 soccer and rugby teams.

The mood has swung from disappointment to anger and denial, emotions that partly speak to our misplaced fandom.

It’s fine to support any (or all) of these teams, but it’s not the end of the world when they lose or whimper out of a World Cup, again.

Comfort can be found in many places, albeit in some sports that operate on the margins and only fleetingly attract headlines.

Take paddling, for instance, where South Africans frequently dominate.

Hank McGregor recently smashed the record at the Maui Jim Molokai Challenge in Hawaii.

McGregor has held the world marathon championship several times, and the current holder is Maritzburg College old boy Andy Birkett, who earlier this year won his ninth Dusi and retained his K1 marathon title a fortnight ago.

He is a superstar, but few beyond his realm know it.

The same is true of another KZN athlete in the shape of Kirsten Landman, who recently qualified for the Dakar Rally.

She will become the first woman from Africa to compete in the event, a singular achievement that proves that excellence can be found in the unlikeliest places.

More remarkable is that six years ago, she nearly died after a bike accident that left her with a torn spleen and a severed pancreas.

Whatever happens in Saudi Arabia, she’s already a winner.

The most dominant of SA’s sportsmen is probably someone you have never heard of.

Moruti Mthalane, from Lindelani, south of Durban, is a champion boxer who hasn’t lost a fight in 11 years.

He’s destroyed a slew of elite boxers around the world, but both his modesty and local boxing’s diminishing status ensure that few beyond hardcore fans even know his name.

Someone else whose name you might soon know is 7-year-old Simthandile “Sim Tiger” Tshabalala, who recently won the US Kids golf championship.

Anointing a youngster as the next best thing can be a hazardous occupation, suffice to say that young Sim is doing it all right, and has dozens of trophies to his name.

His more venerated seniors, led by Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Harding, routinely punch above their weight.

One of the hardest-working teams in South Africa is the women’s hockey side, who last weekend topped their pool at the FIH Hockey Series final in Spain.

Given their limited resources, it’s a miracle they manage to scrap with even the top teams.

If you’re a glass-half-empty person, SA sport is indeed in a mess.

But if you take your blinkers off, we still have much to cheer.

It’s all about perspective.

@ClintonV


Sunday Tribune

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