The African version of the Olympic Games is an important part of the calendar for many sport fanatics Africans, and apart from being good preparations for our athletes, the All Africa Games stirs all of us, even those who are not as enthusiastic, into sincere support for the team and their efforts.
Just as South Africa awaits the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the day will come when an African country will earn the mandate to host an African version of the Olympic Games.
In the mean time, however, Team South Africa have been preparing for months for the Games in Algeria. As one of the most competitive teams in the tournament, and with representation across the board in all types of sport, there has been a lot of planning taking place, to make sure that team South Africa is successful in Algeria.
As the Games begin, the months of work will be tested practically, and no more so that for Banyana Banyana, the South African Women’s football team.
And the test could not have been more daunting than the task they face on Monday night, when they play their arch-enemies, the queens of African women’s football, Nigeria.
“Preparations have not exactly been the way we wanted them to be, but we are ready. There are no injuries and the girls are fit, both mentally and physically. We had a short training session on Saturday and they are looking good,” says Banyana Coach, Augustine Makalakalane.
Banyana Banyana is a very good medal prospect for South Africa, and their form in this tournament is very encouraging, their last outing a loss to Nigeria in the 2003 final in Abudja, when the hosts managed to score a questionable goal in the last five minutes of the game.
Banyana Banyana captain Portia Modise, remembers that game very well and says, “We have to beat them. After the All Africa Games in Algeria, we come home and play Nigeria again for the Olympic qualifiers.
“We can’t loose both Games. So its either we draw the game, or win the game. But we want to win the game,” says Modise.
Another medal prospect for South Africa is in Zodwa Mapanga, a sixteen-year old table tennis player who is very excited at her first experience of going to the All Africa Games.
Mapanga says, “I am hoping to get a bronze medal, so I can qualify for the Olympic Games in Beijing. This is the first time I am going to the All Africa Games, and it is a big dream come true for me.”
Yet another medal prospect is a thirteen year old chess player by the name of Melissa Greef. She is the youngest South African athlete going to the Games, and has an opportunity to bring home a gold medal.
“I am very excited because our main priority in Algeria is to bring home the gold medal, and I think my team stands a very good chance,” said Greef,
The experienced chef de mission, Hajera Kajee, is confident of a successful tournament in Algeria. “In terms of positioning ourselves in the sport, we have a very good chance. We won the competition in 1995 and in 2003 we were placed third, so we can definitely do well.”
Even though South Africa is fairly rich in resources when compared to other African countries, it is not written in stone that South Africa will win. Kajee agrees, “If one considers how competitive countries like Cameroon and Nigeria are.
“And you think of when we were placed first in 1995 and third in 2003, it was a great achievement for us, especially when you consider how good some of these countries actually are.”
South Africa is however used as a benchmark by many countries so the pressure is slightly higher for our athletes, and Kajee agrees. She says, “There is always a feeling amongst other countries where they try and be better than South Africa.”
Kajee is very confident about South Africa’s medal prospects, but does not want to make any predictions and chooses to leave South Africans sport fans with the element of surprise.
She does however say that “the selection criterion for the athletes participating was very stringent. It was only the top three athletes that were selected, so we expecting them to do their very best.”
Kajee continues, “The preparation for the Games went well, especially with the National Lottery stepping in and providing sponsorship, and the high performance centre has also been a vital factor for the preparations of the athletes.”
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