By Susan Miller
As this year's London Olympic Games approach and we all start to get fixated on times, speeds and medal counts – and whether our top athletes and swimmers like Caster Semenya (800m) and Chad le Clos (200m butterfly) can excel and beat the world's best – spare a thought for the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee's (SASCO's) backroom personnel.
While SASCO President Gideon Sam asserts (with what many media commentators believe is 'wishful thinking') that we can return with a haul of 12 medals, there's no doubt the administrators deserve a medal or two.
I asked Ezera Tshabangu, General Manager: High Performance Department at SASCO, about the work that has gone into preparing our Olympics team.
How does the process begin?
The CEO, Tubby Reddy, appoints a project team, headed by a project manager, which is responsible for the day to day operations ensuring that all aspects of the Olympics are covered, including liaison with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) where applicable.
What administration tasks are involved?
Administration tasks include the finalising of the Project Implementation Plan on MS Project and the allocating of tasks to project team members. These include services to the athletes such as preparation, medical and scientific interventions, anti-doping, athletes and officials agreements, sportsperson policies, competition wear and sports entries.
We also have to look at the logistics of accommodation, transportation, generic clothing, the pre-departure camp and the accreditation of all team members.
How does SASCOC go about preparing prospective team members? Is there a coalition between the various sporting codes and how do athletes and teams get picked?
The selection policy is agreed to by SASCOC and the National Federations (NFs). This is drafted from the IOC/IF agreed policies and modified by the National Olympic Committees (NOC).
All NFs are responsible for ensuring that their athletes are aware of the policy they need to adhere to and to ensure that they attend the relevant qualification events. The NFs then submit the names of qualified athletes to SASCOC for final approval by the Board.
How does the SA team get allocated accommodation in the Olympic Village?
SASCOC gets allocated accommodation by LOCOG based on the number of athletes and officials part of the team. We then allocate accordingly based on the space we have.
Do the various codes need different times to acclimatise before the start of the Games?
Some have indicated they do, however, the team will be leaving SA together. Some will go directly to their pre games training camps and others straight to the village.
Who stays with the team members and looks after each discipline?
Each code of sport will have a Code Manager/Team Leader to ensure that athletes within that code get to their training and competition venues. Over and above this, there is a Chef de Mission responsible for the entire delegation and there is the support of the GTM (General Team Management) constituted mainly of the Project Manager and some SASCOC Support staff. These individuals are responsible for ensuring that all members of Team SA have the best support they should get to enable them to perform rather than worry about logistics.
How many team members is SA expected to send?
It depends on the final number of athletes that qualify, however we are looking at about 150-160 including officials.
Will SA compete in every event?
No. At the moment - based on the sports we have qualified for - we likely to participate in 18 sports. (After speaking to Ezera the SA men's hockey side also qualified for the Games, joining the women's hockey side that qualified in March. The men's team sealed their spot after beating host nation Japan at the final Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kakamigahara on May 6).
Who are our main hopes for Gold at the moment?
We do not want to single out any athletes as we believe all the athletes have put in extensive effort to qualify for the Games.
That's a fair comment from SASCO so let's look at which South Africans are being picked by the media as likely medal contenders:
The Mail & Guardian suggests Gideon Sam is pinning his hopes on Cameron van der Burgh (100m breaststroke), Chad le Clos (200m butterfly), the men's 4x100m freestyle or 4x100m medley relay with its team of Van der Burgh, Le Clos, Charl Crous (backstroke) and either Darian Townsend or Gideon Louw in swimming.
In athletics there are 400m hurdlers Louis Jacob van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks, long-jumper Khotso Mokoena and 800m runner Caster Semenya.
Also mentioned are Sunette Viljoen (javelin) and the men's 4x400m relay team.
In mountain biking Burry Stander is definitely a contender and there's also Sifiso Nhlapo in the BMX cycling event.
SASCOC, the media and indeed all South Africans are hoping that our Olympic Team do better than they did in Beijing in 2008. Then 265 athletes competed and we came back with only one medal – long jumper Khotso Mokoena's silver.
SASCOC has spent R34 million on preparations for the Olympics and R15 million more to 'deliver the team', according to CEO Tubby Reddy.
The South African swimming team are to be hosted for a two-week training camp by Princess Charlene of Monaco in their build-up to the Games. Swimming South Africa said its squad will travel to Monaco from July 7 – 22 before heading for the Games. Previously Charlene Wittstock, the Princess swam for South Africa in the 4x100 metres medley at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where her team finished fifth.
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