The head of South Africa’s Olympic squad urged triumphant rower Sizwe Ndlovu to go home and inspire a generation of black people to take up the sport after his thrilling victory at the London Games today.
Ndlovu led the South African lightweight men’s four to victory after sprinting through the field in the final 300 metres of a dramatic race to win gold ahead of the two favourites for the title, Britain and Denmark.
The stunning come-from-behind win for Ndlovu, John Smith, Matthew Brittain and James Thompson was also the first Olympic rowing gold to be won by a South African crew.
“He will be received as a prince or a king,” South Africa’s chef de mission Patience Shikwambana said of Ndlovu, the only black rower in the boat and the stroke of the crew who sets the rhythm.
“He is from Kwa Zulu Natal, and we call Kwa Zulu Natal ‘The Kingdom’ so that means when he gets there the King is going to come and welcome him and say ‘Yes, boy, you’ve made us proud’.”
The 31-year-old, who fielded the majority of the questions asked of his crew at the post-race news conference, said he had been inspired to strive for a gold medal after watching his compatriots Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente pick up bronze in a pair in the Athens Games in 2004.
He took up rowing in 1997 at school and in his biography on the London 2012 information system he described training hazards as dealing with hippos and crocodiles.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” he said, after earlier clambering over his crew mates while still in the boat to celebrate with them all. “I think things will change for us in rowing, I’m very excited.
“Hopefully, there will be more people taking up rowing. Rowing in South Africa is not as big as it is in Europe, it is an expensive sport.”
Shikwambana said he hoped the emphatic victory would inspire South Africans to think differently about sport and to forget the old stereotypes.
“For him being part of that team, it will start to say to most of our black people (who say) that really we as blacks, we can’t swim or can’t be in the water – he has proven that wrong, They can be able to do it.”