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South Africa's greatest sporting icons

May 13, 2020
South Africa's greatest sporting icons

Port Elizabeth - South Africa has a rich sporting history with athletes across numerous disciplines competing at the highest levels on the international stage.

When the international rugby union team, the Springboks, won the world cup in 2019 it was their third time doing so, putting them joint top with arch-rivals New Zealand. As such South Africa has its fair share of sporting icons, past and present, and we’ll explore a few here.

Francois Pienaar

A man as big in stature as he is in name, Pienaar captained the Spring Boks to their legendary 1995 Rugby World Cup victory in a thrilling final encounter against New Zealand.

The tournament was the first to be played in South Africa following the end of apartheid, and the trophy was presented to Piennar by then-president Nelson Mandela, a symbolic moment in South African history.

Pienaar, who played the position of flanker, captained the Spring Boks for all 29 of his international caps. Since retirement, he’s a regular on TV as a pundit and was portrayed by Hollywood star Matt Damon in the 2009 film ‘Invictus’.

Hansie Cronje

A prominent cricketer who captained the South African international team, the Proteas, throughout the 1990s, helping them on the way to huge successes. One of the greatest batsmen of the game, he captained the Proteas for a total of 138 matches across all formats and holds the record for the most victories as captain.

Unfortunately, Cronje’s name and reputation were tarnished by a match-fixing scandal in 2000 that resulted in a lifetime ban from the game. What appeared to be a sportsmanlike gesture to allow England a chance to win the game, was spotted by bookmakers as foul play. It then transpired that Cronje had been conspiring with an Indian bookmaker to fix matches.

Whilst gambling is part of sport and can add to the entertainment value, perhaps as a sportsman he would have been better sticking to online casinos instead. In spite of this, Conje was still voted one of the greatest South Africans of all time, finishing as the highest sportsman on the list.

Jonty Rhodes

Another famous cricketer who played for the Proteas throughout the 1990s. Rhodes is considered one of, if not the greatest fielder of all time. He made his name in the 1992 world cup when he outed Pakistan’s captain and now prime minister, Imran Khan, with a spectacular diving leap. This was a turning point in the game and South Africa went on to score a famous victory.

He also holds the record for the most catches in an international game against the West Indies in 1993. After retirement, he went on to become a successful coach and pundit.

Penelope Heyns

A legendary swimmer who became the first athlete to win a gold for South Africa in the post-apartheid 1992 Olympic Games. She also holds the distinction of being the only woman to win gold for both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events in the same tournament when she did so in the 1996 Olympic Games. She comes two places below Pienaar in the top 100 greatest South Africans of all time.

Wayde van Niekerk

The cousin of Spring Bok winger Chelsin Kolbe, it appears speed runs in the family. In Rio 2016 van Niekerk became the fastest man over the 400m ever when he set the world record in a blistering time of 43.03 seconds. He is also the only man ever to win gold from lane eight. Unfortunately, he was badly injured in the 2017 charity rugby match but let’s hope he can recover soon.

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