THEY were all there at the San du Plessis Theatre in the Free State city of Bloemfontein in all the hues representing the rainbow republic, glitz and glamour to celebrate and honour South Africa’s finest of sports stars and heroes on the occasion of the 11th edition of the annual SA Sport Awards on Sunday evening.
At an event touted to be dominated by duo Olympic nominees, Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya of a total haul of some 15 categories which also included one named after the democratic dispensation’s first Sports Minister, the late Steve Tshwete and the exclusive Shield of Jove [awarded every four years to fall concurrently with an Olympic season] – the outcome turned out to be a no-brainer as the man the media fondly refer to as the ‘Wayde Dreamer’ ended up being the affair’s big victor with no less than three gongs, which equalled precisely the same sweep he realised at the ceremony’s 2015 edition.
Just recently named the best male athlete of Rio 2016 at the Association of National Olympic Committees Awards in Doha, van Niekerk thus replicated the feat he achieved at the tenth asking of the awards when he scooped the people’s choice, sports star and sportsman categories. Life seems to be on a protracted stretched smile for the University of the Free State-based Sprinter as his septuagenarian mentor, the affable Tannie Ans Botha took home the coach of the year award.
Prior to the commencement of the live television feed, South Africa’s who’s-who had descended on the CBD venue whilst treading a considerably long and winding red carpet path flanked by an enthusiastic and screaming crowd jostling to catch a glimpse of the likes of Sam Ramsamy, Josia Thugwane, Skeem Sam’s Cornet Mamabolo, legendary boxing trainer, Mzi Mguni, 67 Blanket’s Karen Steyn, Paralympian, Zanele Situ, the Currie Cup-winning Cheetahs rugby team, designer, David Tlale, 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning captain, Francois Pienaar – and innumerable heroes and heroines familiar to the sport-loving public.
Van Niekerk had earlier also made his entrance on the red carpet alongside girlfriend, Chesney Campbell and with fellow Olympian, Caster Semenya and partner, Violet Raseboya immediately behind them, to deafening screams from appreciative fans lining up alongside the barriers flanking the route to the venue’s entrance.
This was a tuxedo and ball gown affair and had razzmatazz painted all over it for both the local and out-of-town guests – just as it offered onlookers eye lolly in terms of celebrity spotting!
Co-hosted by the all too familiar Thomas Mlambo and Vaylen Kirtley, once the ceremony commenced, the live television feed was conducted by the capable direction of SABC floor manager, the task master-esque Phillip Mosoeu as he cajoled and signalled cues to the audience gathered inside the double-tiered auditorium.
Comedian, ‘Shampoonizer’ provided the comic relief in between commercial breaks and the performances of the likes of Nadia Nakia, Mafikizolo, Vusi Nova and Ray Phiri.
In the newcomer of the year category, 14 year old schoolboy and Paralympics T42 silver medallist, Ntando Mahlangu, pitted against diminutive Olympic bronze triathlon and 2016 ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final winner, Henri Schoeman and Moto3 World Champion, Brad Binder – walked away with the victor’s trophy.
But Binder, the first South African in 36 years to win a grand prix in motor racing, wasn’t to remain empty handed on the starry evening as he, along with van Niekerk, Semenya, Protea bowler, Kagiso Rabada and rugby 7s, Seabelo Senatla, were honoured with the International Achiever Award.
Others honourees were Springbok hero and the only man who could boast to have been portrayed by a Hollywood star in a movie, Francois Pienaar, legendary East London boxing mentor, Mzi Mguni and veteran journalist, Thomas ‘TK’ Kwenaite – who all received Lifetime Achievements Awards.
The occasion turned out to be emotional for Mguni, who is now wheelchair-bound after being involved in a motorcar accident, and one could almost touch the immediate outpouring of sympathy from the crowd as the man who once guided boxer, Vuyani Bungu to an unprecedented 13 world championship title defences, was wheeled to the stage to receive his token of recognition accompanied by his long-standing wife and nephew.
As Paralympians also featured significantly amongst the nominees, Charl du Toit and Ilse Hayes grabbed accolades in the Sportsman and Sportswoman with Disability categories, respectively.
Whilst Olympic 800m queen and 2016 Diamond League winner, Semenya, who although poised head-to-head with van Niekerk for the Sports Star of the Year and People’s choice awards – only managed to bag the Sportswoman of the Year and International Achiever awards. Cocking a snoot at those who make a big deal of how she walks, talks and runs, Semenya, almost as if she had momentarily forgotten the context of the gathering she was addressing in her acceptance speech – impulsively dismissed the detractors with a ‘’voetsek!’’ – which triggered a half-surprised gasp and forgiving cackle of laughter from within the auditorium.
Then came the repetitive appearances to the stage of the Bloemfontein-based Capetonian dressed in a dark olive two-piece suit as he scooped the Sports Star of the Year for the second consecutive year, Sportsman of the Year, International Achiever, Shield of Jove and the public voted, People’s Choice awards. The random trips to the podium understandably eventually left the affable man who memorably slashed Michael Johnson’s long-standing record by 0.5 seconds at Rio when romping home in a time of 43.03 seconds in the 400m race searching for words for successive acceptance speeches.
Seeming to make a fashion of collecting cars, the sprinter drove home a sleek silver Mercedes Benz jalopy as part of his evening’s loot.
African soccer champions, Mamelodi Sundowns collected the Team of the Year reward whilst members of the fourth estate were also recognised in the form of SABC journalist, Thabiso Sithole and photographer, Sydney Mahlangu with the Sports Journalist of the Year and Photographer of the Year awards, respectively.