Johannesburg - It’s not so much the exposure or the title of being an Olympian that has Lebogang Ramalepe excited about being in Brazil to play in the biggest sporting spectacle, although that doesn’t hurt. There's a personal reason that has the Banyana Banyana defender proud.
“I watched the team play the last Olympics (London 2012) on television at home,” Ramalepe says “I wished that I was there with the team and I told myself that 'I will be there in the next tournament' . I have honoured that. It’s my time now. It’s my time to do what I love the most, watched by millions." She believes she would probably not have made it had she not put her goals out there.
"Being here shows what the power of what setting your targets, saying them out loud and then doing your utmost best to achieve them can do. I told my cousin about this dream when we watched the team together. Now that it is happening, When I was named in the squad - she kept calling me 'Olympian.'”
Ramalepe will officially become an Olympian in seven days when Banyana Banyana start their campaign against Sweden in Rio de Janeiro at 6pm (SA time).
Clashes with China and then the hosts Brazil follow. Today they enter the final stage of preparations with a friendly against New Zealand.
Coach Vera Pauw will continue experimenting with the team along with improving certain aspects, especially their blunt attack.
“I have been playing here as a fullback. But things have changed. I think maybe the coach sees something in me. In our last game when we played against the US, she played me as a winger. In our last camp at home she tried me as a striker. She believes in me. It’s not much of a switch though because I started out playing as a right winger. This has improved my tactical awareness,” Ramalepe explains.
Pauw has pushed Ramalepe to go forward often so she complements Nothando Vilakazi on the left flank. The pair are constant features as fullbacks.
They have made those positions their own, with the pair hardly sitting on the bench since making their debuts. Ramalepe made her first appearance in 2014, going on to play in the Cyprus Cup and the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Namibia.
The Olympics will be the biggest competition she has been involved in. But the 24-year-old from Ga-Kgapane in Limpopo won’t suffer from stage fright as she has grown in stature.
In July last year, in the third round of the qualifiers, she scored her first goal for Banyana to help South Africa beat Kenya in the first leg at Dobsonville Stadium.
“That goal is something that I will never forget,” Ramalepe reminisces.
“It helped me grow in confidence and I am glad that it helped the team in the qualifiers. Now that we are in the Olympics, we must do well so that by the end of the tournament everyone must remember that Banyana Banyana were part of the Olympics. Even if we get bad results we must leave a mark so that no one will ever forget that we were there.”