South African Olympic and Paralympic hero Natalie du Toit has backed the country’s medal chances ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Du Toit was this week nominated in the Sporting Moment of the Last 20 Years category at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin.
While she lost out to the Indian cricket team that won the 2011 Cricket World Cup, Du Toit remains one of the most inspirational figures in South African sporting history having competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Du Toit, who had her left leg amputated at 17, finished 16th in the open water women’s 10 km race in Beijing while she also went on to win five gold medals at that year’s Paralympics.
A winner of the Laureus Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award in 2010, Du Toit is still heavily involved in South African sport as a member of the SASCOC board.
Looking ahead to the team’s chances in Tokyo, Du Toit is quietly optimistic. South Africa bagged 10 medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but most experts are anticipating fewer than that in 2020.
Wayde van Niekerk has been battling a long-term knee injury, Caster Semenya’s participation remains uncertain given the IAAF’s rulings over natural levels of testosterone while breaststroker Cameron van der Burgh has retired.
There are, however, still numerous medal hopes including the Blitzboks (Sevens), Akani Simbine (100m and 200m), Jordy Smith (surfing), Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Sumaai (both long jump), Sunette Viljoen (javelin) and triathletes Henri Schoeman and Richard Murray.
In the pool, however, it seems the medal hopes will be pinned once more on Chad le Clos while Tatjana Schoenmaker and Zane Waddell will also fancy their chances.
Du Toit has seen enough to know that, at an Olympic Games, anything is possible.
“The team that is being looked at it is quite a large team and, ultimately, there are quite a few athletes that have the ability,” she said at the Laureus Awards in Berlin.
“We definitely have chances and a youngster could go there, be ranked 10th or 12th, and there is the possibility that they could come in the top three. It’s to never forget that those chances happen.”
Du Toit has naturally been following the progression of the 22-year-old Schoenmaker with interest.
“Tatjana is doing very well. To have someone consistently competing at the times she is posting is great,” said Du Toit.
“At the Olympics, anything can happen, and we saw at Commonwealth Games how she came through.
“She has got good people leading her and she has really stepped up to the plate, as a woman and as a swimmer in South Africa. We’ll all support her and stand behind her.
“No matter what happens, it’s about being proudly South African and knowing the hard work that has gone in behind the scenes.”
Du Toit acknowledged that South African swimming had gone through somewhat of a lull since Le Clos’s heroics at the 2012 London Olympics, but she added that every country went through those stages and that the signs at youth level were encouraging.
“There are a lot of youngsters in South African swimming, particularly young sprinters, who are sitting on the cusp,” she said.
“It might take another four or eight years and hopefully they stay within the sport. There is a lot happening.
“I’m looking forward to it. There are at least two girls that I know that could possibly make it. There is potential and you see that there is something that is building.”
The 2020 Olympics take place from July 24 – August 9.