Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
28 Dec 2021
3:55 pm

2021 Olympics review: Schoenmaker, Buitendag the big stars

Wesley Botton

Breaststroke swimmer Kaylene Corbett, shot put giant Kyle Blignaut and marathon swimmer Michael McGlynn showed they have bright futures.

Tatjana Schoenmaker was South Africa's big star at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: Getty Images

There wasn’t much to shout about in terms of depth, but South Africa’s elite women did enough to save the nation’s 2021 Olympic campaign by grabbing a few medals at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The SA team took multiple knocks before the showpiece even got under way in July, with the Blitzboks being forced into extended quarantine due to positive Covid tests in the squad, while a few athletes were sidelined by injuries in various codes.

In addition, some of the nation’s medal contenders fell just short of podium places, including track star Akani Simbine, who finished fourth in the 100m final, four-time Olympic medallist Chad le Clos, who was fifth in the 200m butterfly, and the Blitzboks, who settled for fifth position in the rugby sevens competition.

Despite all the disappointments, however, swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker and surfer Bianca Buitendag ensured the SA team did not return home empty handed. 

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Schoenmaker lived up to the immense expectation placed on her, breaking the world record (2:18.95) to win gold in the 200m breaststroke final and bagging silver in the 100m breaststroke.

Buitendag, meanwhile, produced the performance of her life, beating seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia on her way to a memorable silver medal in the women’s surfing competition.

The three-medal haul was the nation’s worst since the Beijing 2008 Games, but aside from Schoenmaker and Buitendag’s results, some of the country’s talented young prospects provided reasons to smile by displaying their potential ahead of the 2024 Games in Paris.

Breaststroke swimmer Kaylene Corbett, shot put giant Kyle Blignaut and marathon swimmer Michael McGlynn, all under the age of 23, finished in the top eight of their specialist disciplines in Tokyo.

Buitendag has now retired, but Schoenmaker is expected to shine again at the Paris showpiece  in 2023.

And with a few experienced stars aiming to make amends, and some talented young athletes eager to achieve their potential, she should have more support.