CAPE TOWN – I don’t normally give much attention to the Commonwealth Games.
When Team South Africa do as well as they normally do, and we are swept up in the excitement of actually winning medals for a change (compared to the struggles at the Olympics), the nagging feeling is always the fact that USA, in particular, aren’t there.
So, it’s no surprise then that SA usually get up to 30 medals and above at the four-yearly event.
The political part of me also still resents the whole concept of the “Commonwealth” – in my mind, it is effectively celebrating the fact that the British ruled such vast tracts of the world, including our beloved Afrika Borwa.
Aboriginal groups also justifiably protested during the event in Gold Coast, Australia, which added to the unease of it all.
With regards to Team South Africa, though, we had our usual heroines such as Caster Semenya and Sunette Viljoen, and heroes like Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh (still buzzing about beating Adam Peaty!), Luvo Manyonga and Henri Schoeman, among others.
But for me, the two real breakthrough athletes that helped garner the 37 SA medals – 13 gold, 11 silver and 13 bronze – were 100m sprinter Akani Simbine and swimming Tatjana Schoenmaker.
Simbine is the next-best thing of South African athletics, but it just hasn’t quite happened for him… up to now.
While Semenya, Wayde van Niekerk and Luvo Manyonga were raking in the medals at the Olympics and world championships, Simbine cut a frustrated figure as he was unable to turn his SA record of 9.89 into podiums.
What an incredible night! History made for South Africa and Goal achieved. 🙏🏽 I am truly humbled! Thank you for all the support 🙏🏽 #100mGold! We did it @KINGBRUINTJIES!! Proud of you 🇿🇦🙏🏽🥇🥈 pic.twitter.com/3JyYK116Cd
The 24-year-old finished fifth at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and in the same position almost exactly a year later at the world athletics championships in London.
He deserved better, but again wasn’t entirely sure of medalling at the Commonwealth Games, let alone winning gold.
Jamaican Yohan Blake was the undoubted favourite as he boasted the fastest time of the finalists in 2018 (9.90), and more importantly, this was the stage where he was supposed to prove that he can take over the sprinting baton from the retired Usain Bolt.
Simbine had the second-fastest time (9.94), but had pulled out of the SA championships with an injury niggle after the heats, while England’s Adam Gemili was another strong contender for gold.
The Tuks star, though, kept his composure as Blake lost his to triumph in 10.03, and he even inspired countryman Henricho Bruintjies to silver in 10.17.
Blake had to settle for bronze with 10.19 after a bit of a stumble.
Having just seen Van der Burgh stun Peaty in the 50m breaststroke final, Schoenmaker stepped up in the women’s 100m breaststroke decider and rampaged her way to a new African record of 1:06.41, breaking Penny Heyns’ previous mark of 1:06.52.
WHAT AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE!! 🙌🏼These photos describe the whole experience perfectly. Having the smile on my face doesn’t mean my life is perfect. I just appreciate what I have and what God had blessed me with 🙏🏼 LUKE 1:45, EZRA 10:4, PHILIPPIANS 1:6 🙏🏼 Soli Deo Gloria ❤️ I’m also truely grateful for all the support and messages I got for everyone!! Soo thankful to have such awesome people out there 💗 It was such a honor to be able to represent my country and then as bonus bring back medals🏅 Would never forget any of it 🙏🏼🙌🏼
A post shared by Tatjana Schoenmaker (@tatjanaschoen) on
That followed her victory in the 200m breaststroke, where she beat Suzaan van Biljon’s African time to win in 2:22.02.
Schoenmaker, who is based in Pretoria, missed out on a 50m breaststroke medal, but in ending fourth, she erased another Heyns African record with 30.82.
And guess what – Schoenmaker is just 20, and is primed for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
American Lily King (50m and 100m record-holder) and Denmark’s Rikke Moller Pedersen (200m) will be the ladies to beat, but it is hoped that Schoenmaker will get even quicker in the next two years.
Be warned, world – Akani Simbine and Tatjana Schoenmaker are coming for you...