We love our sports. That’s it! And it doesn’t matter whether you live in South Africa or have moved abroad – nothing makes our chests swell with pride like seeing one of our countrymen represent us on a global stage, track, field or platform.
So, to honour some of the men and women who have really stolen our hearts on the sports arena, here are some of our favourite South African champions. For obvious reasons we could not list all our sporting favourites here – but that does not mean we don’t appreciate the hard work and effort all our heroes have made in flying the South African flag for their country.
South African sport stars
- Okkert Brits – Okkert Brits is a former South African athlete who specialised in pole vaulting. His personal best of 6.03m is also the African record. He won numerous medals at international events and is part of the “six metres club” consisting of only 18 pole vaulters who have reached at least 6.00m.
- Bruce Fordyce – Although born in 1955 in Hong Kong, Bruce Fordyce is a South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete. He is best known for having won the South African Comrades Marathon a record nine times – with eight consecutive wins. He also won the London to Brighton Marathon three years in a row. He is the current world record holder for the 50 miles and the former world record holder for the 100 km.
- Caster Semenya – Born 7 January 1991, Mokgadi Caster Semenya is a South African middle-distance runner and world champion. Semenya won gold in the women’s 800 metres at the 2009 World Championships and silver medals at the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2010, the British magazine New Statesman included Semenya in a list of “50 People That Matter 2010”.
- Elana Meyer – A former long-distance runner from South Africa, Elana Meyer won the silver medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in the 10 000 metres. She set the 15 kilometres road running African record of in November 1991 and also held the half marathon African record. She was the gold medallist at the 1994 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships and set world records in the same event in 1991, 1997, 1998, and 1999.
- Reggie Walker – Reginald Edgar Walke, born 16 March 1889, was a South African athlete and the 1908 Olympic champion in the 100 metres the youngest runner to ever have won the Olympic 100 metres.
- Zola Budd – Zola Budd was a South African middle-distance and long-distance runner. She competed at the 1984 Olympic Games for Great Britain and the 1992 Olympic Games for South Africa in the 3 000 metres. She broke the world record in the women’s 5 000 metres in 1984 and 1985. She was also a two-time winner at the World Cross Country Championships (1985-1986). She is well known for mainly running barefoot.
Other mentions: Hestrie Cloete, Oscar Pistorius, Wayde van Niekerk, Anaso Jobodwana, Hezekiel Sepeng, L.J. van Zyl.
- Jeanine van Kradenburg – The first compound women archer in Africa to shoot a score of 1 400+, Jeanine has earned the title of CW World Cup Gold Medalist. She also smashed all the remaining 720 round Compound Women records at the KZN Provincial Championships and set both the single and double 720 African and South African records.
- Nico Benade – Nico Benade is a member of the very exclusive World Archery International 1 400 Club and was the first South African to ever break the 1 400 barrier. In addition to this, he was also the first archer in Africa to break the 550 mark in Field archery and the first archer to shoot a IFAA 300 with 60 X’s.
Other mentions: Claudette Shiers, Danelle Wentzel, Gabriel Badenhorst.
- Gift Ngoepe – Mpho’ Gift Ngoepe, born 18 January 1990, is a South African professional baseball shortstop and second baseman in the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ngoepe became the first black South African to sign a professional baseball contract when he signed in October 2008.
- Barry Armitage – Barry Peter Armitage is a South African baseball pitcher and the first South African-born baseball player to make an appearance in any Major League Baseball game when he threw an inning for Kansas City Royals against the Houston Astros in a 2005 exhibition game.
- Steve Nash – Stephen John Nash is a South African-born basketball player who is considered to be one of the greatest point guards in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. For three seasons (2004–05 to 2006–07), Steve Nash was rated the most important player in the NBA.
- Brian Mitchell – Quite possibly the best South African boxer of all time, Brian Mitchell won the WBA junior-lightweight title in 1986 and defended it 12 times (a world record) before retiring in 1991.
- Baby Jakes Matlala – Four time world champion in the flyweight section, Baby Jakes was born in Meadowlands, on August 1, 1962. His titles included World Boxing Organisation flyweight champion in 1993, light flyweight title in 1995, International Boxing Association junior flyweight title in 1997 and World Boxing Union (WBU) flyweight title in 2001.
- Gerrie Coetzee – Gerhardus Christiaan Coetzee is a former boxer who was also known as the Boksburg Bomber or ‘seer handjies’. He was the first boxer from Africa to fight for, and win, a world heavyweight title, holding the WBA version of the championship between September 1983 and December 1984.
- Jake Ntuli – Jacob Ntuli was a South African professional fly/bantam/featherweight boxer of the 1950s and ’60s who won the Transvaal (South Africa) (Non-white) flyweight title, South African (Non-white) bantamweight title, South African (Non-white) flyweight title, and British Empire flyweight title, and was a challenger for the British Empire bantamweight title against Peter Keenan. He received the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver from the Presidency.
- Barry Richards – Barry Anderson Richards who was dubbed a ‘talent of such enormous stature’ and is considered one of South Africa’s most iconic cricketers. He played only four Test matches before South Africa’s exclusion from the international scene but even in that short stint, Richards scored 508 runs at the high average of 72.57. Richards’ was instrumental in South Africa’s 4–0 win over Australia. His first century, 140, was scored during his famous with 103-run partnership with Graeme Pollock.
- AB de Villiers – Abraham Benjamin de Villiers is a South African cricketer, and captain of the South African One Day International (ODI) team. He is regarded as the current best batsman in the world and one of the greatest of all time. He was named the ODI cricketer of the year in 2015.
- Dudley Nourse – Arthur Dudley Nourse was a South African Test cricketer who captained the South African team from 1948 to 1951. His most renowned innings was 208 in the 1951 Nottingham Test. At the age of 40, he batted for nine hours with a broken right thumb, registering South Africa’s first double-century against England and captaining South Africa to their first Test victory for 16 years.
- Jacques Kallis – Born 16 October 1975, Jacques Kallis is a former South African cricketer. He is regarded as one of the greatest all-rounders in cricket and, as of 2013, he was the only cricketer in the history to score more than 10 000 runs and take 250 wickets in both one-day and Test match cricket.
- Jonty Rhodes – Jonathan Neil Rhodes is a former South African Test and One Day International cricketer who played for the South African cricket team between 1992 and 2003. He was noted for his quick running his remarkable fielding, particularly catching, ground fielding, and throwing. Since the 1999 Cricket World Cup, he had effected the ninth highest number of run outs in ODI cricket of any fieldsman, with the third highest success rate. He also represented South Africa at hockey, and was chosen as part of the 1992 Olympic Games squad to go to Barcelona, but the team didn’t qualify to go to the olympics.
- Graeme Pollock – Despite Pollock’s international career being cut short at the age of 26 by South Africa’s sporting boycott, he broke a number of records. His career Test match batting average of 60.97 remains second only to Sir Donald Bradman.
Other mentions: Mark Boucher, Makhaya Ntini, Fanie de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Alan Donald, Graeme Smith, Mike Procter, Aubrey Faulkner, Brian McMillan, Eddie Barlow, Herbie Taylor.
- Ashleigh Moolman Pasio – Ashleigh Moolman Pasio is a South African professional road cyclist riding for UCI team Bigla Pro Cycling Team. She finished 16th at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the Women’s road race, and 24th in the Women’s time trial.
- Robbie Hunter – Robert Hunter is a retired South African professional road racing cyclist who competed professionally between 1999 and 2013. He competed with UCI ProTeam Garmin-Sharp during his final professional season.
Other mentions: Daryl Impey, Greg Minnaar, Louis Meintjies.
- Shirene Human – Shirene Human is a South African figure skater and ten-time national champion. She was placed 24th at the 1998 Winter Olympics – a remarkable feat for someone from a country where skating is not a big sport.
- Doctor Khumalo – Doctor Khumalo is the icon for many young South African soccer fans. Dubbed the ‘heart and soul of Bafana Bafana’ during their 1996 Africa Cup of Nations triumph and a vital player for Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs from 1987 to 1994, he has also played in the USA and Argentina. He was capped 50 times for Bafana Bafana, scoring 9 goals in the process.
- Portia Modise – Portia Modise is a South African women’s footballer who was named Player of the Championship at the 2006 Women’s African Football Championship. She is widely regarded as one of South Africa’s best footballers. She represented the South African women’s national football team at the 2012 London Olympics and became the first African player to score 100 international goals.
- Lucas Radebe – The former Leeds United and Bafana Bafana captain has won the hearts of many South Africans. Radebe began his career playing for Kaizer Chiefs, before moving to Leeds in 1994. He played for the Leeds United squad which played the semi-finals of the Uefa Champions League in in the 1999/2000 season and he made over 200 starts for the side. He played for Bafana Bafana over 70 times.
- Quinton Fortune – Born in South Africa, Quinton moved to Europe at a young age to pursue a career in the English Premier League. The former Manchester United midfielder played 126 times for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. He will always be remembered for his dramatic 91st minute equaliser against Paraguay during the 2002 World Cup group stages.
- Ace Ntsoelengoe – Patrick Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe was a South African football player who is considered one of the greatest the country has ever produced. He made his mark in South Africa playing for the Kaizer Chiefs in the 70s and 80s, but played mostly in the United States where he was inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 2003. Former South Africa coach Clive Barker put Ntsoelengoe on a par with Zinedine Zidane, and former Argentinean manager Oscar Martinez described him as “almost a perfect footballer”.
Other mentions: Mark Fish, Neil Tovey, Nelson Dladla, Benni McCarthy, John ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu, Steven Pienaar.
- Gary Player – born in South Africa, Gary Player is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of golf. Player accumulated nine major championships on the regular tour and six Champions Tour major championship victories, as well as three Senior British Open Championships on the European Senior Tour. At 29, Player won the 1965 U.S. Open and became the only non-American to win all four majors. He was only the third golfer in history to win the Career Grand Slam, following Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. Since then, only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won the Career Grand Slam. He’s won 165 tournaments on six continents over six decades and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
- Ashleigh Simon – Ashleigh Ann Simon had a successful amateur career in golfing and was the youngest player to win the ladies’ South African Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play double, as well as the first player in 101 years to win the Ladies South African Open title three times. She represented South Africa in the Women’s World Cup of Golf three times while she was still an amateur and won the 2007 Catalonia Ladies Masters – her third event as a professional which made her the youngest ever professional winner on the Ladies European Tour. She earned her LPGA Tour for 2014 at qualifying school.
- Sally Little – Sally Little is a professional South African golfer, who became a United States citizen in August 1982. She became a member of the LPGA Tour in 1971 and won 15 LPGA Tour events during her career.
- Ernie Els – Known as the ‘Big Easy’, Theodore Ernest Els is a South African professional golfer and former World No. 1. Among his 67 career victories are the U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont and in 1997 at Congressional, the Open Championship in 2002 at Muirfield and in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St Annes. He is one of six golfers to twice win both the U.S. Open and The Open Championship. He’s topped the 2003 and 2004 European Tour Order of Merit (money list), and won the World Match Play Championship a record seven times.
- Branden Grace – Branden John Grace is a professional South African golfer playing both the European Tour and Sunshine Tours. In 2012, he became the first player in the history of the European Tour to win his first four European Tour events in the same year. He’s joined the PGA Tour for the 2016 season.
- Louis Oosthuizen – Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen is a South African professional golfer who’s won the 2010 Open Championship and has finished runner-up in a further three major championships, including the 2012 Masters Tournament, the 2015 U.S. Open, and the 2015 Open Championship. He was placed fourth on the Official World Golf Ranking list in 2013
Other mentions: Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel, Bobby Locke, Trevor Immelman, Rory Sabbatini, Branden Grace.
- Pietie Coetzee – Pietie Coetzee is a South African field hockey who represented South Africa at the 2000, 2004 and 2012 Summer Olympics. She was named South African Hockey Player of the Year in 1997 and in 2002 and became the all-time leading goal scorer in women’s international hockey on 21 June 2011 with 221 goals, bettering Natalya Krasnikova’s 20-year-old world record of Russia’s Natalya Krasnikova.
Other mentions: Shelley Russell, Austin Smith.
Mixed Martial Arts
- Mark Robinson – Mark Robinson is one of South Africa’s most accomplished MMA stars. He’s received national colours in Judo, Swiss Wrestling, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Freestyle Wrestling, Swiss Wrestling, Sumo Wrestling and Powerlifting. In addition to countless national titles, he’s also held world titles in Powerlifting, Sumo Wrestling, Submission Wrestling and Extreme Fighting. He was crowned national heavyweight champion in Judo and Swiss Wrestling in his late teens and went on to win numerous national titles before trying his hand at Sumo Wrestling in 1996. With only a few months of training under his belt, Mark represented South Africa at the World Sumo Wrestling Championship in Japan. To the amazement of the sporting world, Mark defeated the 300 kg reigning champion in the final. This victory was validated by a 3rd place in the 1997 finals in Japan and then another 1st place in 1998.
- Jody Scheckter – Jody David Scheckter was a South African former auto racing driver and the 1979 Formula One World Drivers’ Champion. His 1979 world championship success for Ferrari would only be achieved again 21 years later.
- Peter Lindenberg – South African powerboat racing legend Peter Lindenberg won the South African title on 15 times in his 22 years of racing. He first made his mark as a barefoot water-skier and won the European barefoot water-skiing title in 1977. He became a world record holder in the ramp jump in barefoot water-skiing in 1981, and won his first South African powerboat racing title that year as well. In addition to this he was a successful motor racing driver, leading the South African SASCAR (South African Stock Car Auto Racing) championship in 2002.
- Greg Albertyn – Greg Albertyn is a South African former World Champion motocross racer who won several South African and Dutch national motocross championships before moving onto the World Motocross Championship Grands Prix. He won the 125cc World Championship in 1992, and moved to the 250cc class in 1993 – winning that premier class in his first attempt and defending his title in 1994.
- Grant Langston – Grant Langston, is a former Grand Prix motocross world champion with a string of titles, including 2000 FIM 125cc Outdoor World Champion, 2003 AMA 125cc Outdoor National Champion, 2003 AMA Supermoto Unlimited Champion, 2005 AMA Supercross 125cc East Champion, 2006 AMA Supercross 125cc West Champion and the 2007 AMA 450cc Outdoor National Champion.
- Irene van Dyk – Irene van Dyk is a South African-born netball player who is one of the most capped international players of all time. She represented South Africa 72 times and while captaining the team and was named 2003 New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year after emigration in 2005. She New Zealand for 14 years before retiring from international netball in June 2014.
- Gary Anderson – Gary Allan Anderson is a former National Football League placekicker and first NFL kicker to have a perfect regular season, successfully making every field goal and every PAT during regular season play in 1998.
- Bryan Habana – Bryan Gary Habana is undoubtedly one of the greatest stars of the Rugby World Cup. His eight tries equalled the record set by Jonah Lomu in 1999, and he was named the IRB Player of the Year in 2007. During the 2015 Rugby World Cup he equalled Lomu’s record of 15 tries, and moved into joint second place of all time test try scorers, with a total of 64.
- Danie Gerber – Danie Gerber is a former South African rugby union player who played for South Africa between 1980 and 1992. Despite playing internationally for 12 years, he won only 24 caps for his country due to South Africa’s sporting isolation caused by apartheid. He played 115 games for Eastern Province, 40 for Western Province and 24 for Free State and was induced into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007.
- Andre Joubert – Dubbed the Rolls Royce of fullbacks, Andre Joubert first showed his mettle against Swansea in 1994, helping the Boks defeat the Welsh champions with a staggering 78-7 He was capped 34 times at fullback for the Springboks in the early 90s, and amassed a total 115 Test Points from 10 tries, 17 penalties and 7 conversions.
- Naas Botha – Hendrik Egnatius Botha, is a former Northern Transvaal and Springboks player. He was voted Rugby Player of the Year in 1979, 1981, 1985 and 1987. The former Bok captain is the third highest scorer in Springbok history with a points total of 312. He played for Northern Transvaal from the 70s to the 90s and captained the province a record 128 times with a record 2 511 points.
- Joost van der Westhuizen – Joost van der Westhuizen is a South African former rugby union player who represented South Africa in 89 test matches, scoring 38 tries. He was a member of the victorious South African rugby team at the 1995 World Cup. He was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007, and became a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2014.
Other mentions: Bakkies Botha, Os du Randt, Jean de Villiers, Joel Stransky, Bismarck du Plessis, Mark Andrews, Fourie du Preez, Chester Williams, JP Pietersen, Damian de Allende, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira.
- Natalie du Toit – Natalie du Toit is a South African swimmer best known for the gold medals she won at the 2004 Paralympic Games and Commonwealth Games. She was one of only two Paralympians to compete at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and became the third amputee ever to qualify for the Olympics.
- Penny Heyns – Penelope Heyns is a former South African swimmer who is the only woman in the history of the Olympic Games to have won both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events, making her South Africa’s first post-apartheid Olympic gold medallist following our readmission to the Games in 1992.
- Roland Schoeman – Roland Mark Schoeman was a member of the South African swim team at the 2000 Olympic Games, 2004 Olympic Games, 2008 Olympic Games, and the 2012 Olympic Games. He’s also a former World Record holder in the 50m butterfly, 4x100m freestyle, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 100m IM.
Other mentions: Ryk Neethling, Chad le Clos, Lyndon Ferns, Cameron van den Burgh, Suzaan van Biljon, Wendy Trott, Karin Prinsloo.
- Jordy Smith – Jordan Michael Smith is a professional surfer from South Africa, competing on the World Championship Tour (WCT). In 2007 he won surfing’s World Qualifying Series and he won both the 2010 and 2011 Billabong J-Bay competitions in South Africa. He has been ranked number one in the ASP World Rankings.
- Shaun Tomson – Most famous for his style of riding the tube section of the wave, Tomson was a member of the Free Ride generation of the 70s. He won the IPS World Championship in 1977 and was both the oldest and youngest surfer to win a professional event. He’s considered one of the 25 most influential surfers of the 20th century and the 10 greatest surfers of all time. He was admitted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
- Amanda Coetzer – Amanda Coetzer is a former South African professional tennis player who won her first two top-level singles titles in 1993. She entered the top-20 on the women’s world rankings in 1992 and remained there for most of the next 10 years. She developed a reputation for regularly beating players who were higher ranked than her as she climbed to her career high ranking of World No. 3 in 1997.
- Kevin Anderson – Kevin Anderson is a South African tennis player who became the top-ranked male South African player in March 2008 after making the final at the 2008 Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas. He achieved his career-high ranking of World No. 10 in October 2015 and is the first South African to be ranked in the top 10 since Wayne Ferreira.
- Wayne Ferreira – Ferreira was ranked world no. 1 in junior doubles and no. 6 in junior singles and won the junior doubles title at the US Open in 1989. He won his first ATP doubles title in Adelaide in 1991. In June 1992 he won his first ATP singles title at Queen’s Club, London and his second singles title just a few weeks later at Schenectady, New York. He won the men’s doubles silver medal with Piet Norvalto for South Africa at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. He also teamed up with Amanda Coetzer in 2000 to win the Hopman Cup for South Africa.
- Precious McKenzie – Born in South Africa, Precious McKenzie is a former weightlifter who won Commonwealth titles for both England and New Zealand as well as several World powerlifting and Masters World powerlifting titles. Only 1.45m in length, it’s a remarkable feat for such a small person.
- Antoinette Kriel – Antoinette Kriel is a South African powerlifter who has won the World Powerlifting Championships at the International Powerlifting Federation’s World Championships. She has won Best Female Lifter for two years in a row at the South African RAW Powerlifting Champs 2013 and 2014 and also won also won Gauteng RAW Bench Press Champs 2013 and South African RAW Bench Press Champs 2014.
- Steve Debbes – Steve Debbes, known by his ring name ‘Tornado’, is a South African professional wrestler performing for World Wrestling Professionals. He is the current two-time WWP Heavyweight World Champion and the longest-reigning titleholder in the championship’s history.
Have you got any sporting heroes that we’ve missed? Of course you do! There are simply too many names to add to one list and too many people who have made us proud over the years. For now, we’ll just sit back and reminisce about all the amazing records, tries, trials and victories won for the best nation on earth.