Beyond being gold medallist, who is Sizwe Ndlovu?
Sizwe Ndlovu arrived at the London Olympics as an outside contender for rowing honours, he leaves with a gold medal and a role as an inspiration to a new generation of black athletes in South Africa.
Ndlovu was a member of the victorious South African lightweight men’s four that upset the odds and favourites Great Britain to claim gold on Thursday.
And the significance of what he had accomplished was not lost on the down-to-earth 29-year-old from Johannesburg.
“There are around 20 black South Africans for every 100 whites in rowing, so I’m excited about what we have achieved here today, and hope I can serve as a role model to those back home,” said Ndlovu.
“Hopefully this achievement will inspire a generation to take up rowing, it’s got to be good for our rowing community.”
Ndlovu first sat in a boat at school in 1997.
“I was into other sports, but rowing seemed to offer more. I loved it,” he recalled.
“I was 16 years old at the time, at high school in Joburg and I knew this was the sport for me.
“But financially it’s more expensive than other sports. So black kids tend to get drawn towards rugby and soccer.”
Ndlovu, who struck gold with teammates James Thompson, Matthew Brittain and John Smith, gatecrashed the home nation’s expected party in spectacular style.
Denmark, winners in Beijing four years ago, stormed into the lead with the British crew fighting back to put themselves in pole position only for the South Africans to pounce near the line.
This was South Africa’s first ever Olympic rowing gold.
“I’m so excited about it, when I get home it will sink in,” said Ndlovu, whose parents are both dead but whose brothers and sisters were supporting him back in his homeland.
Like all athletes competing at London 2012, Ndlovu has made sacrifices and the road to Olympic glory has been long, and sometimes hazardous.
Recalling one training session, he said: “We have hippos and crocs. One time, we passed the hippos and on the way back one popped up just four metres away from the boat.
“So we stopped and our coach took pictures, it was like a safari extreme.”
Fellow triumphant crew member Brittain was also finding it hard to appreciate the enormity of what they had achieved.
“It’s weird for me to think that I might inspire someone,” he said.
“It’s strange to think back home there are people watching us and looking up to us.
“Hopefully they will follow in our footsteps.”
Thompson, asked if he and his crew would now set their sights on the Rio Games in 2016, said: “We’re a youngish crew, and learning a lot. I’m excited about the future but don’t know what it holds. We’ve taken a big step up this year, I hope we can continue that trend.”
If the South Africans required any reminder of what they had just accomplished on the 2000m stretch of water at Eton Dorney, west of London, they need only have glanced across at the vanquished British crew.
“It was absolute agony,” recounted silver medallist Richard Chambers.
“We had to dig in and fight to the death.”
His teammate, Chris Bartley, disclosed: “I don’t remember much about the last 250m, you literally do anything to get gold.
“The pain is extreme, I was sick quite a few times after the line, I’m still not feeling tip-top.”
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula congratulated South Africa’s Olympic team on Thursday for bagging three gold medals at the London Olympics and further encouraged them to aim high.
“We are optimistic that a lot more medals will be counted in our favour,” he said after returning from the Games.
“Everyone at the Team South Africa house is truly motivated by the wins of the three. They have truly injected a dose of motivation to the other athletes. With this kind of fire we will be at the podium again,” said Mbalula.
On Friday, South Africans will be hoping for another medal from the likes of Roland Schoeman, Swimming, men’s 50m freestyle final schedule for 9.09pm local time.