The entire world will be watching, and what they are going to see is capital E for Eagles. The South African team will soon show their steel at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, with a flock of North-West University (NWU) Eagles who will embark on the flight of about 13 500 km together.
Pieter Conradie (4 x 400 m), Chederick van Wyk (4 x 100 m), Jo-Ané van Dyk (javelin), Zakhiti Nene (4 x 400 m) and Charné Maddocks (hockey) are all members of the NWU’s respective sports clubs, while Elroy Gelant (marathon) is a staff member. However, they are not the only ones.
The manager of the NWU’s High-Performance Institute, Jean Verster, will accompany the team as manager. Pierre Blignaut, who is involved at the NWU on a part-time basis, will serve as the team’s shot put and discus coach. The well-known sports psychologist Dr Pieter Kruger will also share his expertise in Japan. Another well-known face that has helped out at the NWU in the past is the Olympic 800 m hero Hezekiél Sepeng, who will serve as athletics assistant coach.
Jean left for Tokyo on Tuesday, 20 July, and returns on 9 August. “Nobody has any illusions that these will be normal Games,” he says.
“There are a variety of restrictions, bio bubbles and quarantine measures, and the rules will be strictly enforced. We and the athletes will basically be allowed to move around only between our rooms, the dining hall and the venues. But at least the Games are continuing. This is the world’s biggest sports event, so we are very grateful for that.”
Jean says no spectators will be admitted to the stadiums and mentions that the lockdowns will affect athletes in different ways.
“Some athletes flourish in front of 80 000 spectators – atmosphere does play a role, after all – and to others the lack of spectators will reduce the pressure. This is unknown territory. We will have to think innovatively to get the best from our athletes, but the athletes must realise how big this opportunity is,” he says.
As far as South Africa’s chances at the Games are concerned, Jean feels that the absence of big names like Caster Semenya and Luvo Manyonga will have an effect. There is also concern about whether South Africa’s undisputed superstar, Wayde van Niekerk, will be in fighting trim. Akani Simbine’s recent South African 100 m record of 9,84 seconds does mean that he definitely cannot be written off.