South African athletes participating in the 2016 Olympic games have at least one hundred thousand reasons to push harder to win a medal.
Cash incentives of up to R500,000 are up for grabs by athletes and their coaches who manage to bag a medal at the Rio Olympics which opens on August 5.
According to a release on the South African Olympic Committee’s (SASCOC) website, R500,000 will be award to any athlete (or team) that wins gold at the Olympics. R250,000 will be awarded to silver medalists and R100,000 is on offer for bronze medalists. The amount will be split 80-20 between the athlete(s) and coach(es).
At the 2012 games in London, Team South Africa finished 23rd on the medal table with a total of 6 medals – 3 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze in Athletics, Canoe Sprint, Rowing and Swimming.
125 athletes represented the rainbow nation in 17 sports at the London games. This year however, the numbers have changed. The athletes number has gone up by 12 while the number of competing sports has dropped.
Thus 137 athletes will compete in 14 sports including athletics, football, golf, gymnastics, rugby and swimming.
Among the South African athletes with a really great chance of winning a medal is Caster Semenya, the middle distance runner over 400m, 800m and 1500m.
Semenya – an Olympic silver medalist in 800m from London 2012 – has has an impressive year so far. She won three gold medals at the African Athletics Championships held in June in Durban from two individual events – 800m and 1500m – and the 4×400m relay.
With her top form this season, there is very little doubt that Semenya could end up with gold in Rio.
Another athlete expected to bag a medal is versatile sprinter, Wayde van Niekerk.
The 24-year-old who coasted to victory in the men’s 200m at the African Athletics Championships heads into the games with a personal best time of 19.94 seconds in 200m and 43.48 seconds in 400m.
Bridgitte Hartley, a bronze medalist from London 2012 in the women’s 500m Kayak single is the only athlete in her sport competing in Rio. The incentive aside, there is no doubt Hartley will push to either maintain her performance or improve upon it.
Three of the members from the 2012 gold winning men’s Lightweight Four (Rowing) team, James Thompson, Lawrence Brittain and John Smith are en route to Rio. Can they bag another gold?
Cameron van der Burgh (2012 gold medalist in the men’s 100m breaststroke) and Chad Le Clos (2012 gold medalist in men’s 200m Butterfly and silver medalist in men’s 100m Butterfly) will enter the pool again in Rio for South Africa.
Le Clos is expected to cause a major upset for American Michael Phelps who is looking to close the chapter on his impressive career.
The 31-year-old American is the most decorated athlete with 22 medals, 18 of which are gold. He has reportedly said he regrets giving away medals at the 2012 games in the 400m medley and 200m butterfly by not preparing adequately for them.
So without a doubt, he will be coming to Rio fully prepared to scoop all the gold ahead of his retirement. But having snatched gold from right under Phelps’ nose in 2012, there is no denying the fact that Le Clos would also come prepared.
Apart from these individual events, South Africa will also take part in team events which will feature its national men rugby team (Springboks).
The male football team will face host nation Brazil, Iraq and Denmark in the group stages of the football competition as the female football team, Bayana Bayana also face Brazil, Sweden and China.
Seven cyclists made up of two women and five men, including Tour de France competitor Louis Meintjes will represent the country in various cycling events.
2 men and 2 women will also represent South Africa in golf which is making a come back to the Olympics after 112 years.
They are Paula Reto, Ashleigh Simon, Brandon Stone and Jaco van Zyl.
Tanya Seymour will be hoping to make the rainbow nation proud since she is the sole Equestrian on the team.
The first batch of South Africa’s athletes arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
Check out the full list of athletes and various sports Team South Africa will be engaged in at the Olympics here.