PARIS 2024: South African stars to look out for

olympic games10 July 2024 11:59
article image

With a few days to go to Paris 2024 Olympics, there are few South Africans who have a lot to prove.

Here are the athletes South Africans are pinning their hopes on.


Fifth in Rio 2012 and fourth in Tokyo 2020. Is this the start of an upward trend that ends with a Paris 2024 podium?

When you listen to Akani Simbine talk about his Olympic journey, it becomes clear that he is incredibly single-minded about turning that goal into his destiny.

Simbine has made steady progress with his performances in 2024. In the April, he recorded a 100m times of 10.27 and 10.07. This was followed up by a 10.01 at the Diamond League in Suzhou before breaking the all-important 10-second mark with a time of 9.94 at the end of May in Oslo.

South Africa have not had an Olympic medallist in the men’s 100m for 116 years. As a marquue event of the Summer Games that attracts all sports fans (ardent and casual) like moths to a flame, Simbine is in a position to put a spotlight on the nation more than any of his countrymen.


Different surname, but it’s same swimmer that was South Africa’s star of Tokyo 2020

Schoenmaker was certainly the name on all South African lips three years ago as the shining light in a meagre national medal haul. Not only did she come home with a silver and gold medal, but she also set a new world record with her performance in the 200m breaststroke.

That record has since been broken by Evgeniia Chikunova with the Russian swimmer who amazingly shaved almost a second and a half off the record time.

While Smith might enter these games hungry to be top of the breaststroke world again, more media focus on other swimmers and a little less on her could suit her well going into Paris.

Her achievements and infectious smile that we saw in Tokyo took her image to a new level and she has spoken about being affected by the personal adjustments that had to be made by becoming more of a celebrity.

She’s made it clear that she doesn’t only want to be defined by her name and her swimming. That’s why she’s embraced taking on a new surname from her marriage.

Her times had dipped considerably since her Tokyo triumphs, but her finishes have not veered from the top two in international races. She recently had a solid showing in the national championships in April that included a personal best in the 50m breaststroke.

While there’s been plenty of change in her life as well as women’s breaststroke in the last few years, it’s clear that the 27-year-old is relishing the opportunity to compete in an Olympic pool again.


It’s one of those moments where all South Africans remember exactly where they were when they saw it.

It’s nearly been eight years since Wayde van Niekerk came out of the final turn in lane eight streets ahead of the rest with the commentator saying “The South African is starting to tire…or is he?”.

It’s been a rollercoaster journey for van Niekerk since that world record run where there have been more downs than ups on the track at least.

After crushing Michael Johnson’s iconic long-standing 400m record, a horrific knee injury followed in a charity game of touch rugby in 2017.

It took two years to get to anywhere near his best after that ACL tear only for his competitive comeback to be derailed further by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This culminated in him missing out on the 800m final in the Summer Games in Tokyo.

His results have improved slightly since then with consecutive World Championship finals, but he couldn’t pull off a podium finish in either.

While he’s made it clear that he’s not making any medal promises and that he’s focusing more on enjoying an Olympic experience rather than his performance itself, you would still be hesitant to write off van Niekerk, especially if he ends up in lane eight…


As a gymnast who qualified for Tokyo 2020 while still in high school, Caitlin Rooskrantz goes into Paris 2024 much wiser on what it takes to succeed on that stage and her role as a South African ambassador.

Racial representation in gymnastics is a matter that’s close to her heart and Rooskrantz relishes the role she plays in changing the perception of it being a predominantly white sport in South Africa.

In Tokyo, she managed a personal best score and her performances in certain disciplines have caught the attention of many since then.

The highlight since her Olympic debut was the bronze medal that she picked up in the uneven bars at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Going into Paris 2024, while she will have set competitive goals for herself, her biggest motivation is to inspire the next generation.


He’s stated that he wants to be remembered as the greatest sportsman that there has ever been in South Africa. As the country’s most decorated Olympian ever, the statistics already makes it a hard point to argue against.

Le Clos was responsible with one of South Africa’s most dramatic Olympic moments as he just pipped Michael Phelps to win gold in the 200m butterfly at London 2012.

He followed that up with a silver medal in the 100m butterfly and added two more silvers at Rio 2016. He came back empty-handed at Tokyo 2020 though with a best finish of fifth.

Which begs the question: what are the odds of the 32-year-old actually adding to his record at Paris 2024?

His last major medal was a silver in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the 200m butterfly. He also just missed out with a fourth-placed finish in the 100m butterfly.

Recently, he’s been showing promising signs in short course races and he’ll hope that he’ll successfully use that as a stepping stone to get back to his best in the 50m pool.

There are two Olympic records that are on the 32-year-old’s radar. One is to beat the record for the oldest swimmer to win a gold medal in butterfly (held by Phelps) and the other is to become the first South African to compete in five Olympic Games by also qualifying for Los Angeles 2028.

Any medal in Paris would constitute a success for Le Clos and while he hasn’t put in many eye-catching performances in long-course races, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s achieved Olympic success as an underdog.


While watching a new generation of talent always brings excitement, it becomes especially enticing when it comes to BMX racing pioneer Miyanda Maseti.

She will become the first black woman to represent South Africa in Olympic cycling and the first African woman to compete in the BMX category.

When you listen to her in the buildup to Paris, you get the impression that the 18-year-old is more excited than nervous about that fact.

Despite her age, she’s already a six-time South African champion. She knew that she was a natural from the age of four when she first got on a bicycle and immediately asked for the training wheels to be taken off.

She speaks of trusting the process of her improvement rather than getting bogged down by expectation on results. It’s a mindset that belies her age that should be ominous for her competitors.