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As a country with an ingrained aptitude for sporting excellence, it’s no surprise that South Africa is the proud home of athletes who hold several of the world’s most prestigious sports
records. Have a look at some of the pioneers of their field who broke records and shaped the global sporting world with a protea on their chests.
Stephen Mokoka: men’s 50km ultramarathon world record (2022)
In March 2022, Mokoka set the 50km world record in the Nedbank Runified race in Gqeberha, South Africa, with a time of 2 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds – a difference of almost 2 minutes on the previous record. Despite breaking the world record, Mokoko, much more used to running shorter distances, has said it’ll be a while before he runs the 50km ultra-distance (or anything above 42km) again.
Irvette van Zyl: women’s 50km ultramarathon world record (2021)
At the same Nedbank Runified race in Gqeberha the previous year, Irvette van Zyl finished her 50km in a world record-breaking 3 hours, 4 minutes and 23 seconds, shaving off 3 minutes from the previous record.
Ntando Mahlangu: men’s long jump T63 world record (2021)
The 19-year old secured a gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics in both men’s 200m T61 and men’s long jump T63 events, securing the world record with his jump of 7.17 metres in the latter. Not his first time on the podium, he also holds the record as the youngest South African to do so with his silver medal awarded for his 200m T42 performance at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics five years prior when he was just 14.
Natalie du Toit: first disabled athlete to qualify to compete against able-bodied athletes (2001)
At the 2001 Manchester Commonwealth Games, Natalie du Toit made history by becoming the first disabled athlete to qualify to compete against able-bodied athletes, after which she received the David Dixon award for being an “outstanding athlete”. At the All Africa Games and Afro-Asian Games in 2003, she again qualified to compete against able-bodied swimmers and ended up taking home gold (All Africa) and silver (Afro-Asian) in the 800m freestyle, as well as bronze (Afro-Asian) in the 400m freestyle.
Hestrie Cloete: first woman high jumper to successfully defend her world championship title (2001 – 2003)
Famous for her characteristic pre-jump ritual of spinning her index fingers, a sideways lean and visualising each step she would then take, Hestrie Cloete was a cigarette-smoking, fast food-consuming, singular powerhouse in the world of women’s high jump. She retired in 2004 after becoming the first woman to successfully defend her world championship title in 2003 after winning it previously in 2001.
Wayde van Niekerk: men’s 400m sprint world record (2016)
At 24 years old, Van Niekerk won the gold medal at the Olympics for the men’s 400m sprint, setting a world record of 43.03 seconds. He was not done making history in 2016, also becoming the first sprinter ever to run the 100m in under 10 seconds, 200m in under 20 seconds, and 400m in under 44 seconds.
Tatjana Schoenmaker: women’s 200m breaststroke world record (2021)
At the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021, Schoenmaker shocked the swimming world by calmly and self-assuredly smashing the world record in the women’s 200m breaststroke by 16 milliseconds. The then 24-year old wasn’t even leading the race for the first 100 metres, ramping up her energy in the second half spectacularly and taking home the gold and the record.
Chad le Clos: most gold medals won in the FINA Swimming World Cup by a male swimmer (2009 – 2018)
After concluding his participation in the 2018 Swimming World Cup, Le Clos secured the Guinness World Record for "most gold medals won in the FINA Swimming World Cup by a male swimmer" for the staggering 143 gold medals he collected from 2009 up to and including 2018. As well as this, he became the most decorated Commonwealth Games swimmer, with a total of 17 medals, as well as the first man to win the Commonwealth Games title in the 200m butterfly, 3 times in a row.
Ernie Els: most consecutive weeks inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking (1994 – 2009)
Ernie Els is not only the first golfer to register 300 career top 10s since the launch of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986, but he proved to be the most consistent with the record for most consecutive weeks inside the top 10 – a monumental 758 weeks.
Jaques Kallis: only player to score over 12,000 international runs and take 500 wickets (1995 – 2014)
Jacques Kallis is one of the most extraordinarily talented cricketers to ever grace the sport, most notably for being an exceptional all-rounder. He has smashed records for both batting and bowling, being the only player to make over 12,000 international runs and take 500 wickets, but in true Kallis fashion, he knocked this one out the park, scoring 13,000 more international runs on top of that record. He is also the only player ever to have accomplished 10,000 runs and 200 wickets in both Tests and ODIs.
There is still a vast wealth of other great, legendary South African sportsmen and women not on this list, which just goes to show how South Africa has an incredibly rich and diverse sporting history that is sure to continue.
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