Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 10:42 UK

South African anger at Olympics flop

Khotso Mokoena, who won silver for South Africa in the long jump in Beijing

By Mohammed Allie
BBC News, Cape Town

South African's Olympic team has returned home with one solitary silver medal and its poor performance had led to lots of finger pointing in what is often considered Africa's sporting powerhouse.

It was long jumper Khotso Mokoena who spared the country's blushes with the medal midway through the second week.

Every time we go to the Olympics we do the post-mortem and we say that we need to invest more in sports but nothing is ever done
Sports researcher Ross Tucker

But when the 131-strong team, the largest in the country's history, left for Beijing, Moss Mashishi, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, promised it would return with at least 10 medals.

In the end, South Africa finished a lowly 66th on the final medals table and 8th among the African countries.

Even crisis-hit neighbour Zimbabwe managed a gold and three silvers.

Given the high expectations, the disappointment and even anger is understandable.

But Ross Tucker, a researcher at the South African Sports Science Institute in Cape Town, says he is not surprised by the team's poor performance.

He presented recommendations to improve South Africa's performance after the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"It wasn't unexpected. Every time we go to the Olympics we do the post-mortem and we say that we need to invest more in sports but nothing is ever done."

African records

Swimming has previously provided South Africa's strongest Olympic medal hopes - of the 19 medals (four gold, nine silver and six bronze) won at the games since 1992 when the country returned to the competition, eight have been claimed in the pool.

1992: 2 medals
Both silver
41st on the medals table
1996: 5 medals
3 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze
27th on the medals table
2000: 5 medals
2 silver and 3 bronze
55th on the medals table
2004: 6 medals
1 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze
43rd on the medals table
2008: 1 medal
1 silver
66th on the medals table
Athletics has delivered nine with rowing and tennis winning one each.

While there were no medals, the swimmers managed to break 16 African records.

Former Hungarian national swimmer Karoly von Toros, now one of the leading coaches in the country, nevertheless believes that the performances of the young swimmers bodes well for the future.

"The swimmers did extremely well. Most of them broke their personal best times," he says.

"Because the experienced swimmers didn't win any medals, people have lost sight of the performances of the new generation, the second line who came through.

"They did very well and if they are carefully looked after, they should deliver at the next Olympics in London."


But Mr Tucker does not share Mr Von Toros' confidence.

"One needs to put the African records and personal bests into perspective.

The South African Olympics team at the opening of the Games
South Africa took 131 people to Beijing, its largest team ever

"The new technology in swimming has driven the sport forward by 5% in the last few months whereas we only progressed by 1%," he says

This year South Africa was represented in 19 of the 28 sporting disciplines and there are suggestions that the country should follow the lead of successful smaller nations like Jamaica, Kenya and Ethiopia who focus on their strengths.

"The challenge is to figure out how best to invest the limited resources, particularly financial resources, and then figure out which sports are going to deliver the biggest return without compromising the other sports which may be neglected," Mr Tucker says.

"There's a fine line between specialising and becoming elitist as opposed to encouraging mass participation and activity among the population."

Yet South Africa's sports ministry and the Olympic team bosses can expect a tough grilling from parliament, where serious questions will be asked about what has been labelled "the Beijing flop".

To make matters worse, the poor showing of the Olympic team comes at a time when South African sports fans are reeling from sorry performances of the national teams in the country's big three sports.

The Springbok rugby team who, after winning the World Cup only 10 months ago, have now lost three consecutive test matches to New Zealand and Australia, the touring cricket team suffered two humiliating one-day international defeats against England while the football team, Bafana Bafana, are in real danger of not qualifying for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.

At least they qualify automatically as hosts for the 2010 World Cup.

In pictures: Africa's Olympians
21 Aug 08 |  In Pictures
Country profile: South Africa
31 May 08 |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific