South Africa's Olympic story is broken into two distinct parts, the pre-isolation era and the post-apartheid era. Indeed, up until their return to the games in 1992 South Africa had only ever sent white athletes to the games. They made their first appearance at the Games more than a century ago at the 1904 St Louis event.
As an indication of how much things have changed that original team was comprised of three marathon runners and a tug-of-war team. No medals were won in 1904 but four years later in London in 1908 it was a South African, Reggie Walker, who won the men's 100m sprint in a time of 10.8 seconds.
In the early years South Africa enjoyed success across a range of events, with medals won on the track, in the pool, on the tennis courts and in cycling. The most notable of the early achievements came in 1912 in Stockholm when Ken McArthur and Christian Gitsham placed first and second respectively in the men's marathon.
South Africa's last appearance prior to isolation was the 1960 Games in Rome. It was not a particularly fruitful event for the 55-strong squad with a yield of just three medals - a silver for heavyweight boxer Daniel Bekker to go along with bronze medals for 400m runner Malcolm Spence and featherweight fighter William Meyers.
Although South Africa would miss the next seven stagings of the Games due to the Apartheid policies of the government, their presence was nevertheless keenly felt, particularly in 1976 when African nations embarked on a mass boycott of the Montreal Games in protest again the participation of New Zealand, who still held sporting ties with South Africa.
South Africa were again in the Olympic news in 1984 when barefoot Bloemfontein runner Zola Budd qualified to represent England and ran in the 3 000m. And as if her qualification for England was not controversial enough, the race, which pitted her against US favourite Mary Decker only added to the hype and drama that surrounded the 18-year-old middle-distance star. With the race just past the halfway mark and with Budd in the lead, she and Decker collided with the US star falling to the ground injured. It had an impact on Budd as well and she eventually trailed home in seventh spot to a resounding chorus of boos.
Things were much more positive when South Africa returned to the fold in 1992, the Rainbow Nation under the leadership of Nelson Mandela was suddenly a success story that everyone wanted a piece of. But South Africa's 93-person team did not fare particularly well with a couple of silver medals all they had to show for their efforts by the end of the event - Elana Meyer in the women's 10 000m and the tennis duo of Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval in the men's doubles were the recipients.
Four years later in Atlanta in 1996 things were starting to look better and a trend of stellar performances in the pool started to emerge. It was the women who set the tone for the successes that would follow with Penny Heyns grabbing a pair of breaststroke golds and Marianne Kriel claiming a bronze for her backstroke efforts. There was also to be athletics success, first for Hezekiél Sepeng, who took silver in the 800m, and then the fairytale gold that nobody, except the man himself, had expected. Marathon runner Josia Thugwane became the first black athlete to earn an Olympic gold for South Africa when he edged South Korea's Lee Bong-Ju by three seconds in what was the closest Olympic marathon finish ever.
The trend of medals in swimming and track and field continued in 2 000 as Penny Heynes added to her medal tally from 1996 with a bronze while Terence Parkin claimed a silver. Hestrie Cloete in the high jump bagged a silver while there were bronzes for hurdler Llewellyn Herbert and discus thrower Frantz Kruger.
The swimming success continued four years later in Athens in spectacular fashion as South Africa's men's 4x100m freestyle relay team of Roland Schoeman, Ryk Neethling, Lyndon Ferns and Darian Townsend set a world record time of 3:13.17 as they beat the much-fancied Australian and US teams to claim gold. The South African side managed a further two swimming medals that year, both going to Schoeman, while in track and field there was silver joy for 800m runner Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and another second place finish for Cloete in the high jump. For the first time since 1992 South Africa also claimed a medal in an event that was neither swimming nor track and field as the men's coxless pairs duo of Donovan Cech and Ramon di Clemente managed bronze.
After the success of 2004, the Beijing Games was somewhat underwhelming for a South African team that comprised of 156 athletes. The large squad could manage just one medal between them, with long jumper Khotso Mokoena's silver the only success enjoyed.
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