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South Africa: Olympic Tradition

In its return to the Games after a 32-year exile, South Africa sent 93 athletes to Barcelona and won two silver medals: by tennis players Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval in men's doubles, and Elana Meyer in the women's 10,000m.

"I'll never wash this hand again" said Nelson Mandela after meeting Penny Heyns.
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"I'll never wash this hand again" said Nelson Mandela after meeting Penny Heyns.

Four years later in Atlanta, South Africa won five medals, including three gold medals. Two gold medals were won by swimming star, Penny Heyns, who swept the women's breaststroke events. Her victory in the 100m breaststroke made Heyns the first athlete from South Africa to win a gold medal since Joan Harrison in 1952 (backstroke). Hezekiel Sepeng became the first black South African to win an Olympic medal with his silver in the men's 800m. And then, on the final day of competition, a little-known black South African marathoner, Josia Thugwane, won the men's marathon. Barely literate and coming from an extremely poor background, Thugwane came to symbolize the new post-apartheid South Africa.

In Sydney, won five medals (two silver, three bronze). Three of the medals came in track and field, including silver for high jumper Hestrie Cloete. The other two medals were in swimming, including a bronze for Heyns in the 100m breaststroke.

Cape Town was one of 11 cities to submit a bid to host the 2004 Games and finished third in the final vote. Won six medals in Athens (one gold, three silver and two bronze). Three of the medals came in swimming, with Roland Schoeman leading his country to gold in the 4x100m free relay in world record time. It was an outstanding Games for Schoeman, who also claimed silver in the 100m free and bronze in the 50m free. Two of the medals came in track and field (Mbulaeni Mulaudzi's silver in the men's 800m and Hestrie Cloete's silver in the women's high jump), and the sixth medal came in rowing, with Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente winning bronze in the men's pair. Stands 35th on the all-time medal chart with 63 medals - 19 gold, 20 silver and 24 bronze. Has won 19 boxing medals.

1996 Marathon winner Josia Thugwane became the first black South African to collect Olympic gold.
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1996 Marathon winner Josia Thugwane became the first black South African to collect Olympic gold.

Before Barcelona, South Africa had not competed since it sent an all-white team to the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Officially ousted from the Olympic movement in 1970, although South Africa was not allowed to compete in either the 1964 or 1968 Games because of its government's apartheid policy. The IOC readmitted South Africa on July 9, 1991.

First competed in the Olympics in 1908, when Reginald Walker won the 100m dash. South Africa's Kenneth McArthur and Christian Gitsham placed 1-2 in the 1912 marathon. Barcelona marked South Africa's first multiracial Olympic team, although two Zulu tribesmen - the first black Africans to enter the Olympics - ran unofficially in the 1904 Olympic marathon. Lentauw and Yamasani were in St. Louis as part of the Boer War exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

Several outstanding South African athletes never made it to the Olympic arena because of their country's outcast status, including Jonty Skinner, now an American citizen and the director of USA Swimming's National Team Technical Support. Three weeks after the 1976 Olympics, Skinner set a world record in the 100m freestyle. 

 


2008 Medals

CountryGoldSilverBronzeTotal
USA363836110
CHN512128100
RUS23212872
GBR19131547
AUS14151746
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