Time to learn from mistakes

05 September 2013 - 03:46 By David Isaacson

Remember the six medals South Africa won at the Olympics last year? Those three golds, two silvers and one bronze were South Africa's best Games of the post-isolation era.

But one year down the line and those six gongs have effectively dropped to four.

The four codes that made the podium in London for South Africa - swimming (three medals), rowing, athletics and canoeing (one each) - have now all staged their respective 2013 World Championships.

The rowing and canoeing showpieces ended this past weekend; there were no top-three finishes for the men's Olympic champion lightweight fours crew nor for kayak sprinter Bridgitte Hartley, a bronze medallist in London.

South African rowing didn't get a medal this year, but there was the consolation of seeing three crews reach A-finals. And our rowing has promising young talent coming up.

South Africa's only "Games" silverware of 2013 came from swimming and athletics, and though there were six medals in all, only four of them can be compared to the Olympics. That glorious double in Barcelona by Cameron van der Burgh and Giulio Zorzi, winning gold and bronze in the same race, will surely be one of the standout moments of 2013 for South Africa. But it came in the 50m breaststroke, which is not an Olympic event.

Chad Le Clos's two golds for the 100m and 200m butterfly and Van der Burgh's 100m breaststroke silver ensured aquatics held its ground in the past 12 months.

Van der Burgh's silver was a step down from his gold last year, but Le Clos negated that by upgrading his Olympic 100m fly silver to gold.

In track and field, Olympic 800m silver medallist Caster Semenya was unable to qualify for the World Championships in Moscow after a late return from injury.

South Africa's sole success in Russia was recorded in the 1500m by Johan Cronje, who failed to make the 2012 team. He missed out on London because of the controversial double-qualification criteria laid down for the country's athletes and swimmers by South Africa's sporting brains trust. They had to achieve qualifying times or distances not once but twice.

One qualifying time was the international requirement and was used by many nations in 2012. Not South Africa.

Cronje achieved only one qualifying time, so he had to stay home.

There is no way to know what might have happened had he been in that race in London, but the 3min 35.13sec bronze medal time was within Cronje's reach.

The administrators' logic for the double qualification criteria was that it was supposed to guarantee that those who made the team would perform at their best at the Olympics. But actually, fewer than half of our athletes and swimmers hit their peak in London, and, as Cronje showed a year later, the policy might actually have cost this country a medal.

Every sports person will readily admit that they learn from past mistakes in their bid to improve.

Hopefully, the administrators will do the same.

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