/ 13 August 2012

Deep Read: Team SA’s Rio blueprint

Gideon Sam is a man with a plan for Team South Africa to achieve greater Olympic glory in Rio 2016.
Gideon Sam is a man with a plan for Team South Africa to achieve greater Olympic glory in Rio 2016.

Just a touch ironic that British singer Jessie J paraded around the Olympic stadium at last night's closing ceremony belting out: "It's not about the money, money, money."

Because really when it comes down to it, winning an Olympic medal is, most of the time, all about the money.

Britain is of course a prime example – their £264-million investment into Team GB bought them 29 gold medals at these Games and third spot in the world on the medal table. Not bad for a nation who just 16 years ago returned from Atlanta with a solitary gold medal.

Team South Africa may not have quite as many millions at their disposal, but exactly how the cash they do have is spent in the next four years will be critical in terms of what to expect back from Rio in 2016.

The good news for now of course, is that with three golds, two silvers and a bronze in the bag, Olympic sport is once again something to cheer about in South Africa. And the embarrassment of that solitary medal-winning performance in Beijing can finally be forgotten.

While there will be much celebration when Team SA lands in the country on Tuesday morning, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) Gideon Sam, who predicted a medal haul of 12, has mixed feelings about the team's performance at these Games.

Despite his team returning from London with their largest medal haul since readmission, Sam said he was feeling: "50-50. If you think about it – if it was in business, your investors would have said  'You know you've achieved 50% of what you promised so our investment is not safe in your hands.' But truly speaking the one thing we really have achieved is to do away with the Beijing thoughts. And as far as that is concerned we have done very well."

While some scoffed at his pre-Olympic target, Sam is sticking to his guns. "I don't think 12 was too ambitious because if you look at the medals we left on the park, we could have gone very close to 12," he said, pointing to Sunette Viljoen just missing out on a javelin medal by a matter of centimetres, and the likes of Beijing hero Khotso Mokoena losing out in the long jump, LJ van Zyl in the 400m hurdles, Burry Stander in mountain biking and a few others in the pool.

"I like to be a big dreamer. I don't like to think small. If we in our country think small, we're not going to get there. We have to raise the bar all the time. Because I believe we've got the potential. We mustn't shy away from it," he added.

Sam doesn't only dream though, he already has a plan in place for the next four years

"It's all written down. Done and dusted. We know exactly what we need to do," he said.

"We need to focus now. We have the money but we need to use it better."

Sam outlined a plan, which will see two tiers of sports forming the focus of the 2016 campaign. The first tier includes sports such as swimming, athletics, rowing, cycling and canoeing, while the second tier includes the contact sports.

"I've had discussions with the SANDF (South African National Defence Force). We're going to take wrestling, judo, weightlifting, boxing and taekwondo so we're looking into the details now of how we recruit and let them work from the army," said Sam, who pointed out that the different sports federations do not always use their funding in the most efficient way.

"I'm a little bit worried about just spending money on everybody – we need to be focused … I've told them to stop this thing of taking 20 swimmers to international competitions. You're not going to have 20 swimmers at the Olympics. If you'd taken that money and given it to seven of them, those seven would have delivered those four or five medals that you need and that's what we need to get across to the federations.

"But it's not a case of dictating to the federations, but rather sitting down and working with them to take this thing forward."

Sam said he has already had discussions with rowing coach Roger Barrow, after the men's lightweight four success in London, about setting up a national rowing base in Tzaneen. And he has chatted to the president of the International Hockey Federation, who suggested hosting more international tournaments at under-21 level to raise the standard of the sport in South Africa.

"The plans are all there and together with Minister [Fikile] Mbalula we will look at what kind of funding we will need to put behind this.

"But it must not kick in the last year before Rio, it needs to kick in now. In January we ought to know where we are going. I need to know who we have in the system and how we're going to look after them," he said.

"It's such a beauty to see that some of them that performed in London are still very young and will continue," he added pointing to Lehann Fourie, who reached the final of the 110m hurdles; and the impressively speedy Anaso Jobodwana, who gave Usain Bolt a run for his money in the semifinals before lining up against him once more in the 200m final.

Sam said that the Commonwealth Games in 2014 will provide a further opportunity for the federations to give athletes a chance to perform but then scale down their teams with an eye to Rio two years later.

"We've got a big testing opportunity that we can have in Glasgow in 2014. I would like to take quite a number of athletes to Glasgow. Everyone must know now that there is an opportunity to go to Glasgow and then afterwards the sifting will come for Rio," he said.

While year after year, many a South African sports official has floundered, Sam certainly seems to be a man with a plan, and he's determined to make it work. And thanks to the boost from Cameron, Chad, the rowing boys, Bridgitte and Caster, it can surely only get better from here.