Sports stars shine again

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 May, 1993, 12:00am

A BLACK Ethiopian and a white South African, embracing in the Olympic arena, symbolised the new Africa as South Africa ended more than two decades in the sporting wilderness.

Exiled because of its apartheid policy, South African sportsmen, women and administrators have quickly picked up the pieces.

Nothing symbolised the dismantling of apartheid better than the emotional scenes of Ethiopian runner Derartu Tulu and South African Elan Meyer after they finished first and second in the 10,000 metres final at the Barcelona Olympics last August.

''It was a very special moment, because we did it for Africa,'' said silver medallist Meyer.

''And I was running for the real South Africa.'' South Africa was back in the Olympic movement after 32 years.

There were no gold medals, but it won another silver in tennis, thanks to doubles players Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval.

However, it is in cricket where South Africa has caught up with the rest of the world.

The team reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Australasia last year and has since recorded its first Test win - against India in a home series.

It was a fairytale return, as it thrashed World Cup favourites Australia by nine wickets in its first World Cup game in Sydney.

And it kept winning and qualified for the semi-finals, only to lose in controversial circumstances. Needing 21 runs off 13 balls, play was interrupted by a deluge of rain and the fickle World Cup rules decreed that two overs be deducted because of the delay but the target stay the same.

The game was ruined and South Africa considered unlucky losers.

But the cricketers had their own destiny in their hands on a tour to the West Indies, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

They lost their last eight wickets for 28 runs and the one-off test by 52 runs.

But, in January, South Africa made no mistake in front of its home fans by beating India. It faces its next challenge in Sri Lanka, with a tour beginning in August.

Nine matches will be played on the strife-torn island, including three tests and three one-day matches.

The team has two notable omissions in Peter Kirsten, a former captain during South Africa's rebel years, and veteran off-spinner Omar Henry, the first non-white to have played for South Africa.

South Africa wanted to stage the next cricket cup in 1996 but lost out to India-Pakistan.

But the 1995 World Rugby Cup will be played in South Africa and has the backing of the African National Congress, which is convinced the South African Rugby Football Union is serious about solving development problems and other issues in the game.

But some world players and officials still have their doubts, believing there is plenty of potential for trouble from political extremists.

However, there is no doubt South Africa's players are bridging the gap with the rest the world.

Late this month, Natal beat Auckland in the final of the new Super 10 rugby tournament for South Hemisphere teams - the best in the world.

South Africa posted its first test victory since its exile when winning one of two tests on a tour of France. But it was beaten in tests by New Zealand, Australia, and England.

South Africa is now preparing for a tour by France next month.

There has been a major shake-up as the Springboks look for a new direction after the retirements of such stalwarts as Naas Botha and Danie Gerber.

Hongkong has also witnessed the new breed of South African rugby players, at the Sevens two months ago. They went out in the quarter-finals, beaten 20-12 by New Zealand.

In horse racing, South Africa has champion jockeys all over the world, with Basil Marcus here in Hongkong, along with compatriot Felix Coetzee, and Michael Roberts in Britain.

Marcus is making a great bid to retain his Hongkong title, clawing back from an 18-win deficit over local hero Tony Cruz in the past few months.

In Britain, Roberts won 206 races last season and has landed one of the best jobs in racing - rider for one of the world's most successful and wealthy owners, Sheik Mohammed of Dubai.