Medal haul shows our progress, says Sascoc

South Africa’s medal return at the recent World Swimming and Track and Field Championships are proof the country is on the right road to the next Olympic Games in London, 2012.

So said SASCOC president Gideon Sam, at a media briefing at Olympic House in Johannesburg on Wednesday, a day after the national track and field squad returned home from Berlin, Germany.

They brought back three medals with them, two gold and one silver.

“These three medals are three more than we won in both Osaka [Japan] and Helsinki [Finland] at the last World Championships,” said Sam.

“This is proof we remain committed to continued improvement and our goal of 12 medals in 2012.”

Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Caster Semenya both won gold in the 800-metres event for South Africa while Khotso Mokoena took silver in the long jump, just as he did in the Beijing Olympics last year.

South Africa last won medals at the 2003 Championships in Paris, where they took four medals, two of them gold from high-jumpers Jacques Freitag and Hestrie Cloete.

“We are under no illusion as to the task at hand and that is why we are constantly evaluating our athletes in all codes around the world, as well as looking at the various coaches and coaching structures, a vital cog in our medals quest,” said Sam.

“Our swimmers came back from the World Swimming Championships in Rome last month with four medals and its also important to note Bridgitte Hartley won our first ever World Sprint Championships medal when she won bronze in Canada recently,” said Sam.

“So as you can see it’s a constantly evolving process.”

Cameron van der Burgh (gold and bronze), Gerhard Zandberg (bronze) and Chad Ho (bronze), all won medals in Rome.

Our rowers are also currently taking part in the world championships in Poznan, Poland.

In terms of the Operation Excellence (OPEX) update the lengthy process of interviewing all the athletes (and coaches where possible) is all but complete.

Very much part of that OPEX elite category is Semenya.

“We reiterate our stance that Caster has unbelievable talent and an athlete we earmarked for big things. That’s precisely why we included her in the top tier of OPEX Elite Road to London athletes as we believe she has both the potential and the desire to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London.”

Semenya is the subject of heated international debate on the question of her gender.

But Sam’s position on this delicate subject is firm: “We had every faith in Athletics South Africa and the team they selected to attend the World Championships in Berlin.

“We pride ourselves on the fact we send ‘clean teams’ to global events and we would take strong action against a federation if this didn’t prove to be the case.

“Until otherwise proven or indicated she remains very much a part of the very best of South African sporting prowess.”

SASCOC High Performance general manager Ezera Tshabangu says that of the remaining few interviews that need to be done, its mainly a few isolated track and field athletes that need to be assessed, now that the team is back from Germany.

“Due to Wesley Moodie being based overseas [Jeff Coetzee is the other doubles player] and currently playing on the international circuit, the tennis interviews look like being done in September when the Davis Cup will be played here in South Africa.”

Regarding South Africa’s 2004 taekwondo Olympian, Duncan Mahlangu, his coach/mentor Master Cho, arrived back from Taiwan this week and interviews are expected to be concluded shortly.

Back to the support structure for the Opex aces, athletes get sent an agenda (prior to meetings) which focuses on living expenses, training support (including coaching, scientific and medical interventions), personal support (studies), competitions (local and international), training camps (local and international), equipment and technological support.

Says Tshabangu: “They then prepare a budget in line with their four-year plan [2009-2012] which is discussed at the meeting or teleconferences.

“We also check where they are based [permanent training base], any sponsors they may have and what the shortfalls are. With each plan there are specific performance goals from now until 2012 including the 2010 Commonwealth Games, 2011 All Africa Games and the various sport-specific World Championships.

“After the meetings the fund-allocation and contract is drawn up, and forwarded to the athletes and National Federations for perusal. They have a week to seek legal counsel to peruse the contract and if there are no issues they sign.

“The meetings with athletes and their coaches have been a real eye opener in terms of what is really happening on the ground. We tend to assume a lot in terms of their needs.

“The new process and way of doing things will go a long way and I believe we can only get better from here.

“It is now up to the athletes and coaches to deliver. However, we know that the systems need to be there in order for us to support them.

“This is what we are tying up right now. We are also doing an analysis of the other sports codes on the Olympic/ Paralympic programme, including team sports since some of them may make the criteria for inclusion on the programme.”

Over and above the federations mentioned, Sascoc would like to acknowledge other codes that have been involved in world competition recently.

These include the 2009 Global Games, the second of its kind, which were held from July 5-13 in the Czech Republic.

Team South Africa finished seventh overall and picked up 21 medals in the process, amounting to eight gold, three silver and 10 bronze. The Games are for people with intellectual disabilities.

Archery’s World Cup was held in Shanghai and South Africa also excelled, clinching the bronze medal with victory over Russia.

Elsewhere, Rosanne Hodge picked up the silver medal as Team SA clinched fifth place at the Billabong ISA World Surfing Games in Costa Rica, and SASCOC add their congratulations to all these efforts.—Sapa

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