Semenya berates critics: I know I did my best

"Anyone who says I didn't try my best knows nothing about athletics; they know nothing about what we go through as athletes. I know I did my best and that is what matters," Semenya said.

It's been nearly three years since her astonishing victory in the 2009 Berlin World Championships, which turned from a dream win into a nightmare after she was forced to undergo a series of drug and gender tests following that victory, and subsequent performances were questioned by officials, athletes and an often unsympathetic public.

Semenya earned South Africa their only medal in track and field at the Olympics, scoring a silver with a dramatic finish in her 800m final.

Team South Africa arrived on Tuesday to a hero's welcome at OR Tambo International Airport as hundreds of fans gathered to mark their return from the London Olympics.

Waving placards and blowing vuvuzelas, the group were met with heartfelt cheer as roughly 2 000 people crammed into the arrivals terminal of the airport.

'You are our heroes!', 'Well done Team SA!' and 'Thanks for the medals!', read some of the boards held up by fans.

"You have all done us so proud! You went over there and showed the world what South Africa was made of," Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula told the assembled masses.

Giving hope
The eight competitors who returned with medals for Team South Africa were the centre of attention.

Semenya, along with swimmers Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh, canoeist Bridgitte Hartley and rowers John Smith, Sizwe Ndlovu, Matthew Brittain and James Thompson, were spirited away to a hastily assembled press conference shortly after their arrival.

"Sport is the only thing that unites us. You have given this country hope, you have united a nation," Mbalula said.

Some supporters who gathered to welcome the team home were draped in Democratic Alliance (DA) and ANC garb.

"Elections are coming and we are here to show South Africa the DA is present," Sicelo Sithole, a DA supporter, told the Mail & Guardian.

"Look around you, the only reason this was made possible is because of the ANC," Erasmus Mayimela, dressed in an ANC-branded jumpsuit said.

In spite of opposing views, all present in political attire danced alongside one another and screamed with joy when the athletes arrived.

High scores
South Africa finished in 24th place overall and scored the highest finish for any African country in London.

Spearheaded by efforts in the swimming pool, Team South Africa pulled off one of their best performances at the Olympics in a century. With three golds, two silvers and one bronze, South Africa's effort in London equalled their best performance since readmission to international sport in 1992.

Had the team managed one more gold medal, it would have matched efforts at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics – South Africa's best performance in history.

"This is the best result in our post-apartheid history. We should all be very proud and our medallists deserve a big round of applause from the whole country," South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) CEO Tubby Reddy said.

Team South Africa aimed to snare 12 medals in London, with Sascoc president Gideon Sam threatening to resign if they failed

"As a former school principal, if I ran across someone who only achieved 50% I would bring them into my office and give them six of the best. I am not sure what you want to do with me now," Sam said.

He added the team tried their best.

"We left some medals on the park and if the dice rolled in our favour it certainly would have been more," he said.

Van der Burgh won the men's 100m breaststroke final, finishing in 58.46 seconds, securing South Africa's first medal at the London Olympic Games.

Le Clos scored gold in the 200m butterfly in a time of 1:52.96, beating his childhood idol and multiple Olympics gold medallist Michael Phelps in the process.

The 20-year-old Durbanite then went onto deliver silver in the 100m butterfly, finishing second behind Phelps in 51.44.

Hartley won South Africa's only bronze medal at the Olympic Games, in the women's kayak single K-1 500m race.

The rowing team served up a surprise when they achieved gold after coming from behind to finish first in the men's lightweight-four final.

All medallists received monetary rewards for their efforts, scoring R400 000 for each gold, R200 000 for silver and R80 000 for bronze.

"In a few weeks we'll have a plan for the next Olympics in Rio and it will be tougher. We want to better our achievements come 2016," Sam said.

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Nickolaus Bauer
Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend.

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