Champion Tatjana Smith wants to ‘have a lot of fun’ at Paris Olympics

Tatjana Smith clinched a gold and silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Photo: Reuters

Tatjana Smith clinched a gold and silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Photo: Reuters

Published May 16, 2024


IN what is probably a case of once bitten twice shy, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) has steered clear of giving a specific mandate to Team SA ahead of the Paris Olympic Games.

Speaking yesterday in Johannesburg on the periphery of the announcement of the first of three batches of the squad to represent the country in the French capital in August, Sascoc president Barry Hendricks said the onus was on the respective federations to set particular goals.

“We are not going to tie ourselves down (to speaking about mandates). We are going to leave the performance to the federations,” Hendricks said, no doubt loath to put a number on their medal expectations, lest Team South Africa does not deliver and they end up with egg all over their faces.

South Africa brought home three medals from the previous Olympics, and the natural expectation from the country, and no doubt Sascoc themselves – as well as the federations sending athletes to the Games – would be for an improved return.

But sport is fickle at the top, and Hendricks and Co have clearly learnt that much. His refusal to state the mandate of Team SA notwithstanding, Hendricks does expect a good showing, though.

“But you can see from the performances of our relay team and the swimmers in Gqeberha that there is potential. And we are still waiting for the sevens (rugby) teams to qualify (the women have qualified but the men are yet to do so), and there’s a potential for a medal there,” Hendricks explained.

“They (athletes) are still on Operation Excellence, and some of them are on Olympic Solidarity – all we have to do is to continue practising in the build-up for Paris.

“It is for them to do what they have been doing, and ours is to just support them. But we are not going to put our heads on the blocks just yet.”

Sascoc announced a 39-member squad in seven sporting codes – aquatics (nine), athletics (17), canoeing (four), gymnastics (one), sport climbing (four), surfing (three) and wrestling (one) at Sascoc House in Johannesburg yesterday morning, and a further two batches will be announced later.

— Team South Africa (@TeamSA2024) May 15, 2024

Swimmer Tatjana Smith (née Schoenmaker) was among those who attended the announcement, and was delighted at officially knowing she was going to her second Games, which takes place from July 26-August 11.

“It’s special now that it is kind of official. It is my second time, but it does not mean any less to me than the first time. I am glad it is official. Even though we had the suspicion it will happen, it is nice to finally know it is happening.”

Smith is aware there will be high expectations on herself and the swimming team that usually delivers for Team SA at the Games, but she is not going to allow that to get to her.

“It is all about not carrying that expectation on yourself. Everyone expects you to win gold, but my expectation on myself is even higher,” she said.

“For me, I am going out there and if I can swim my best time, obviously I’ve achieved the best in my sport, and that’s always what I am fighting for – the best time.

“It is about racing the races as best as possible, and if it ends up being gold, then that’s great.”

She explained that her gold in Tokyo has not led to her raising her expectations: “I have the same expectation as it was for Tokyo – to go out there and enjoy the races.

“We have all trained to do well, and we are going to give our best and if it ends up being Olympic champion, it will be amazing.

— Team South Africa (@TeamSA2024) May 15, 2024

“But otherwise I am going to leave there knowing that I had a lot of fun,” said the swimmer, who won gold in the 200m breaststroke in a world record time in Tokyo, as well as a silver medal in the 100m of the same event.

Though she will carry the nation’s hope of bringing home gold, Hendricks is hopeful that there are other athletes who will do the country proud.

Next week, Sascoc will reveal the team’s kit for the Games.

Team South Africa

Aquatics: Pieter Coetzé, Chad le Clos, Matthew Sates, Aimee Canny, Tatjana Smith, Kaylene Corbett, Erin Gallagher, Rebecca Meder, Julia Vincent

Athletics: Stephen Mokoka, Gerda Steyn, Irvette van Zyl, Cian Oldknow, Akani Simbine, Benjamin Richardson, Luxolo Adams, Wayde van Niekerk, Lythe Pillay, Zakithi Nene, Tshepo Tshite, Adriaan Wildschutt, Marioné Fourie, Zeney Geldenhuys, Rogail Josephs, Jovan van Vuuren, Prudence Sekgodiso

Canoeing: Tiffany Koch, Esti Olivier, Hamish Lovemore, Andrew Birkett

Climbing: Aniya Holder, Joshua Bruyns, Lauren Mukheibir, Mel Janse van Rensburg

Gymnastics: Caitlin Rooskrantz

Surfing: Jordy Smith, Matthew McGillivray, Sarah Ann Baum

Wrestling: Steyn de Lange