SA’s water women make up for Blitzboks crash
Surfer Bianca Buitendag and swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker grab SA’s first medals as rugby team crash out
Semi-retired surfer Bianca Buitendag and swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker stepped up to provide the silver lining as the Blitzboks were dumped out of the Tokyo Olympic Games on Tuesday.
Buitendag, from George, stunned the world as she scooped silver by felling two of the top three seeds on her way to the final, where she was downed by No 1 Carissa Moore of the US.
Moore created magic on the typhoon-driven waves at Tsurigasaki beach and was too good for the 27-year-old South African.
Earlier in the day, Schoenmaker kicked off the two-medal haul for Team SA by taking silver in the women’s 100m breaststroke.
Schoenmaker touched in 1:05:22 — the slowest time in her three swims at these Games — to finish behind American teenager Lydia Jacoby in 1:04.95. Defending champion Lilly King of the US was third in 1:05.54.
The South African is well primed to win two medals at this showpiece, going into the 200m breaststroke heats on Wednesday as the favourite.
The Blitzboks became Team SA’s latest high-profile casualty when they were eliminated from the medal hunt at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday.
The rugby Sevens side won the bronze at Rio 2016‚ but this time could not get to the semifinals.
After going through the group matches unbeaten‚ they went down 19-14 against Argentina in the quarterfinals and were scheduled to face Australia on Wednesday in the play-offs to decide the rankings from fifth to eighth‚ along with Canada and the US.
Buitendag, seeded 17th out of a 20-strong field, took advantage of “washing machine” conditions to see off No 2 seed Caroline Marks of the US in the semifinals and Yolanda Hopkins of Portugal, the ninth seed, in the quarterfinals.
She beat Australia’s No 3 seed Stephanie Gilmore in the third round on Monday.
An emotional Buitendag wiped away tears as she collected her medal on the podium. “I’m a bit overwhelmed but I’m super proud of being South African and representing its beautiful people.”
She is only the second SA woman in history to win an Olympic gong outside athletics and swimming; kayaker Bridgitte Hartley was the first at London 2012.
Considered a no-hoper, Buitendag slew giants in Japan.
“Today was a fight, out and out. Every time I would come out of the water after a heat, I told myself if I don’t collapse on the sand I didn’t try hard enough.
“I really felt like I gave it my best shot. A lot of things aligned so there was divine intervention, for sure. A lot of things aligned to make it through conditions like this.”
The surfing finals were brought forward a day because of an advancing typhoon, and that created difficult waves.
“It was six foot and messy,” said the surfer, who is coached by SA legend Greg Emslie. “It was like a washing machine, but for the underdogs it works in their favour because anything can happen. It just proves anybody can.”
Buitendag probably ranks as SA’s darkest horse to have made an Olympic podium, with most medallists having gone into battle ranked highly in the world.
And she would not even have been in Tokyo had the national sports bodies not forced the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) to change its stiff selection policy for Tokyo in late 2019.
Before then, she was ineligible for selection because she was not considered good enough, and she would have watched the spectacle on TV, instead of standing on surfing’s first Olympic podium. The sport made its Games debut in Japan.
Had Schoenmaker replicated the 1:04.82 Olympic record she clocked in the heats on Sunday, she would have taken gold on Tuesday morning. Her 1:05.07 on Monday was the fastest time of the semifinals. She was also the first to turn.
“Coming back I was a little more tired, especially at the end, I was dying a little,” Schoenmaker said, adding she could see King on the one side, but not Jacoby.
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