16 August 2004
Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling took the four-by-100 metres freestyle relay by storm on Sunday night, beating some of the biggest names in swimming and shattering the world record to take South Africa’s first Olympic gold medal since the marathon in Atlanta eight years ago.
Schoeman, Ferns, Townsend and Neethling smashed the previous world mark by half a second, clocking 3 minutes 13.17 seconds.
It was a dominant performance by the South African quartet, and it started with Roland Schoeman, who destroyed the opposition with a devastating first leg that gave the South Africans a lead that was never closely challenged.
The further the race progressed, the clearer it became that the four swimmers were about to land South Africa’s first gold medal since Atlanta, where Penny Heyns won double-gold in the pool and Josiah Thugwane captured a shocking win in the marathon.
When Neethling touched to complete victory by more than a second over The Netherlands, with the USA in third, there was pandemonium in the South African lane.
That the win had come in world record time was simply icing on the cake. The South Africans had crushed the best the rest of the world had to offer. Defending champions and world record holders Australia, with Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim, could only manage sixth place. An unbelievable final leg by Pieter van den Hoogenbrand still left the Netherlands almost a full second behind SA.
And the United States, despite drafting Ian Crocker and Michael Phelps for the first two legs and world number one Jason Lezak for the final leg, had to settle for bronze.
Hard-fought win in hockey
In the men’s hockey competition, South Africa opened up with a hard-fought and courageous victory over Argentina, ranked six places above South Africa in the world rankings.
Craig Jackson and company fell one behind the South Americans after Mario Almada netted with a great reverse stick shot. However, from that point on, Jackson in central defence, and goalkeeper Davie Staniforth, put up a wall the Argentinians couldn’t break down.
Striker Greg Nicol then did what was necessary to secure victory, firstly scoring from a penalty corner, then adding a second goal with a shot from the field. It is his final international tournament before retirement, but Nicol proved that he remains one of the world’s greatest strikers ever.
Archery: Lewis advances
Archer Kirsten Lewis overcame strong winds and India’s Dola Banerjee to advance in the round of 32 in the women’s individual 70 metres. Lewis won 141-131 against the thirteenth-ranked India star; no mean achievement considering that she’s ranked fifty-second.
In other events South Africans fared less well. The beach volleyball pairing of Leigh-Anne Naidoo and Jula Willand went down to second seeds Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede of Brazil, while Gareth Blanckenberg finished twenty-second and sixteenth in the first two races of sailing’s laser class.
Anriette Schoeman struggled with the heat and failed to challenge in the women’s cycling road race, and badminton’s Chris Dednam was thrashed 15-1, 15-0 in the men’s singles.