South Africa at the Olympics

Let’s dive into South Africa’s (1992+) history at the Olympics!

Tokyo 2020 ended about a month ago with Team South Africa coming back with one Gold and two Silvers. That felt fewer than past games so naturally, I hopped over to Wikipedia to see how we’d done previously. Then I made some charts and here we are!

Note: data is from Barcelona 1992 onward, when South Africa was allowed to return to the Games after the and of apartheid.

Slicing up the Medals Table

Indeed, my “feeling” was correct. We were on the podium 10 times in Rio 2016 and 6 times in London 2012 before that. Thankfully Khotso Mokoena‘s Long Jump silver saved us from no-medal-games in Beijing.

Moving to the overall medal tally:

We’ve taken 38 medals in total, with the split above. More than a quarter of those medals came from Rio 2016.

Yep, Swimming and Athletics gets us on the podium most often. Swimming also gets us Gold most often:

With the most Silvers from Athletics:

And most Bronzes from Swimming:

Interestingly, since the number of available medals heavily skews towards Swimming and Athletics, countries stronger in these disciplines can take advantage over those more dominant in lower medal-count sports (especially team sports).

And now for the people behind the medals:


My chart above combines groups/teams as although each person gets a physical medal, there is only a single medal allocated to the team and this is counted in the country’s medal tally. An example is Roland Schoeman who is listed in his personal capacity as one Silver and one Bronze but also has a Gold medal as part of the 2004 Men’s 4 × 100m freestyle (Swimming) team. Athletes with the same number of medals/medal type are listed alphabetically.

Using the IOC’s “gold first” ranking system, Penelope (Penny) Heyns would be our Olympian, followed by Caster Semenya and then Chad le Clos. Chad does have the honour of being our most decorated Olympian of all time with 4 medals.

All Medalists:

Reliving all the Golds

Here’s a playlist with all the Gold Medal Races:

And individual links to these videos as well:

Commentary and Closing

Watching all those videos definitely took me on a bit of a nostalgia trip and even, dare I say, brought on a bit of patriotic pride. It’s fun to see our country be competitive on the world stage. That said, I’d like to see how SA compares to other countries on metrics like Medals vs GDP per Capita or Medals vs HDI. I wonder what our “Olympic peer group” actually looks like. Also getting data on how our athletes are funded to to build a “medal efficiency” metric would be cool. So many future analyses to do!

If you have any questions/would like to share your experience with the Olympic Games, leave a reply below. To get an email when I write another post, click here to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

Fascinatingly, this temporary flag was used to represent South Africa at the 1992 Olympics and if anyone had won Gold, Ode to Joy would have played as our anthem! (Flag image was retrieved from WikiMedia here). Our current flag (🇿🇦) first flew on Election Day 1994 and represented South Africa from then onwards!

(Featured image remixed from this photo by Shinnosuke Ando on Unsplash)


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑