5 September 2008

South Africa: Fiery Olympics Postmortem Expected

Johannesburg — SWIMMERS will hold a Beijing Olympics postmortem in Germiston tomorrow with Swimming SA administrators, and Katheryn Meaklim, competing at the South African short-course championships in Germiston this weekend, promised yesterday the swimmers would not hold back.

Meaklim made the promise as sources in Beijing confirmed last night that swimmer Natalie du Toit will carry the flag in the Paralympics opening ceremony. She will make history as the first athlete to carry the Team SA flag at the openings of both the Paralympics and Olympics.

Her triumph was in stark contrast to a storm brewing at home in the wake of Team SA's dismal Olympic showing.

Meaklim, who finished 10th in the final of the 400m individual medley in Beijing, was reluctant to confirm any of the reports of fear and bullying in the athletes' village at the Games.

"You just try and put it out of your mind and do what you have to do. There is nothing much you can do about it anyway," she said.

After winning her heat in the individual medley with embarrassing ease yesterday, Meaklim would not confirm an incident in which Team SA athletes were allegedly shouted at for wearing team blazers when management felt it was too hot.

"We have a debriefing on Saturday and we are definitely going to talk about all of these things. I am sure all the swimmers from Johannesburg will be there and we will see what happens."

Asked about whether the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee staff in the village had looked after the athletes properly, Meaklim looked uncomfortable and did not give a direct answer. "Ja ... well ... I was comfortable. They could perhaps have organised little things, like golf carts.

"Walking around after competing was fine but I think walking around before competing was not ideal. When I swam in my events my legs did feel quite tired -- not from the race but from walking around beforehand. Maybe they could have organised bicycles."

Did other teams get these things? "Yes, they did. Bicycles, carts. Something like that would have been nice for us."

Did people like head coach Dirk Lange not monitor these issues? "Well, Dirk actually gave up his village accreditation for my coach, Alistair (Hatfield)," said Meaklim.

While there was a chorus of disappointment among sports fans at home, Meaklim said most of the swimmers felt they had done pretty well and had been happy with their times.

"I was ecstatic with my times. I couldn't have done any better. Okay, maybe there was a little disappointment that people didn't win medals. But there were a lot of African records and best times. You really cannot ask for more than a personal best," she said.

Meaklim conceded there was a need for South African swimmers to be exposed to strong international competition on a regular basis.

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