Day 65: The End

Wow! The course has now come to an end. Just over two months of intensive learning coupled with experiences (and heartache!) that will indeed last a lifetime. I do feel bad for not actually blogging over the last few days of the course to get the best out of it, but well, the blog before this will explain a lot on my state of being. On that, Witbank does have a real odd drinking culture seeing that the bar at the Casino on a Monday night was really full! Oh well, better that than drinking alone!

Well, what can I actually say in conclusion here – the course was brilliant hey. I think the main issue was coming into the course with a really good frame of mind and expecting things to be different and, well, embracing the difference rather than shunning them and feeling all sorry for myself. I guess the fact that I did go back home every weekend did help my sanity whereas the people that stayed here for the entire course would have had a totally different experience especially with the non-activity of the weekends. But hey, I went out there and I did enjoy every minute of this life less ordinary.

The work was real important though and the knowledge that I have gained about the Auxiliary Plant, Boiler, Turbine and Electrical Reticulation is of such high value and importance. Oh yeah – I did learn that actually finding any usable information on a power plant is impossible using the internet! HAHA! But, well, that is what libraries are for and the immense scale that power generation is built upon would warrant it necessary for people to actually not allow public content to be available.

Today was the final presentations that we did. Mine was on Water Separation in the Boiler Drum. I think I should upload the presentation somewhere or even write my next blog on the operation of it! It was a bit more exciting than it sounds and a little quirk, the spelling of “separation” with the two A’s was a total mindboggler for me! I still type it out with a single A and E after the P. And to think, I’m such a spelling Nazi under normal circumstances. Anyway, the presentation went brilliantly and actually taught me the power of practice. It was the first time that I stood in front of a mirror and practiced around five times before calling it a night. That practice gives you such confidence and just increases your knowledge to a level that makes the actual presentation a breeze. Then again, I am now used to presenting in front of knowledgeable crowds.

I am going to miss Eskom Park and Duvha though – the atmosphere was so laid back and, well, the Kitchen staff provided such, well, memories! As I detailed in a blog earlier, they were just unable to fathom that only vegetables could be eaten as a whole meal! I will miss it all though with the Witbank way of life now but a memory. But as I drive back down the N12 today for seemingly the last time, I will have a smile on my face and in my brain that reminds me of this experience that I will cherish (yes, I said cherish) for years to come…

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Day 58: Love Hurts, but sometimes it’s a Good Hurt and it Makes me feel Alive

Well, this was inevitable that I wrote about this. It’s not directly related to the course, but, well, it is something that has affected my entire life after all! And, well, I got quite a lot to say about it so why not blog about it! Anyway, before I get to the blog, the course is almost at its end! To think, almost two months ago, I was moving into this Guesthouse bracing myself for a real long course. Anyway, I was wondering today what will happen to this blog after I’m done. I would like to continue though I might need to change the blog’s title!

Anyway, this is a reserved spot … the blog will follow soon. Work in progress 😉

Day 57: I drift…

So it’s a Tuesday and we finished up at the plant yet again. This time, though, it was the last day at the Plant. The Electrical Reticulation didn’t really take that long so hey, no more ash-covered overalls (and other body parts) until I need to come here for actual work. We do visit National Control later this week but that’s not really part of the plant. Nevertheless, I did enjoy going up and down the monstrous plant a lot. ANYWAY, back to the blog – today was, well, a drive of necessity I guess. The reasons for this will come up in later blogs but these little roadtrips do tend to allow the mind to float away into the beauty of this amazing country of ours. Now, the one problem was that I had no idea where to actually go as Kruger National Park is WAY to far away for a single days drive and I had gone through a good part of the coal-seams of Southern Mpumalanga. So, North it was and BAM – Groblersdal. Take the N11 to get there and I can do a circular trip by taking the R25 and R544 back. I expected a drive mimicking the elements of the other drives – little did I know that I was in for a big surprise…

I don’t know if anyone remembers that dreaded series on SABC3 called “Avenues.” Avenues are basically tree lined streets and I found this out when I was a kid – one of the trillions of bits of information I did pick up in my formative years which I am rather thankful for. The main road near my house is an avenue and, well, over the years, the trees have been felled with special mention to the one really old tree which was uprooted when they widened the road. I was quite sad when it did happen hey. Anyway, I got to the outskirts of Middelburg and came across several of these avenues. They are really beautiful and have such a sense of serenity to them.

The first revelation of the trip was the greenness of it. Compared to my journeys south, this trip actually didn’t have mine dumps and coal trucks breaking the road to shreds. On the side of the road, I saw this device. Tractors rule!

I saw this brilliant sign on the way. There actually is this bottle store in the middle of nowhere. I actually wanted to stop and get something but, well, I analysed the risk and stayed in my car. Besides, there were dogs sleeping outside.

Another thing I realised during this trip was that South Africa is blessed with this amazing network of National N roads. This road ran around 100km with twists, turns, dips and mountain passes yet there was not a single pothole on the entire route. I will agree though that the N roads are kept in tip-top shape as compared to other roads. The delays between maintenance is shorter than those of R and municipal roads and as a result, some of the R roads, like the one in an earlier blog and the R25 that I encountered later on this trip were in quite bad shape. These are taken care of as is the case with the R544 – the tar was freshly laid upon this barren stretch of scarcely used tarmac. The number of cars that I encountered there was minimal yet the road had been renovated. I have heard somewhere that our road network is one of the world’s best. And yet, people complain…

And then I saw it…the Loskop Dam. All the greenery and curvy, mountain pass type roads of this route had to mean something and the answer was that these led one onto the breathtaking Loskop Dam. The approach to the dam had several signs telling one about this dam but I was not prepared for this heart-stopping sight. The drive, from Middelburg, takes one up and down a mountain pass and then onto a false flat before flinging you back up another mountain pass. When one reaches the summit, the beautiful blue hits brandishes one’s eyes and you can’t help but be awestruck by this site. I was lucky that the day was a marvellous, summer’s day and the dam’s true beauty was not lost. Originally built in the 1930s, it now is around 30km long and is used mainly for irrigation of the farms around Groblersdal and Marble Hall. There is a nature reserve in the conservancy area of the dam with accommodation and what promises to be a rather awesome holiday only about 150km away from Johannesburg! Looking back at the photographs, they really don’t do the dam justice. Guess you just need to visit it for yourself 🙂

This was erected next to the dam wall. Oddly enough, the graffiti in the palm was not evident when I took out the photograph.

Just north of the dam are the vast farms that provide the country with its vital food source. I also encountered the farms that supply McCain with vegetables. Although it is almost a fake greening of the landscape, these farms do give the Northern parts of Mpumalanga this touch of beauty not evident in the South.

Groblersdal is the typical small town in Mpumalanga. Next to this liquor store was what appeared like a cross between a pub, club and shebeen. Situated on one of the main roads, this uh, establishment had some banging tunes resonating from the speakers and the distinct smell of Black Label that has been spilled. Did I mention this was at 2pm on a Tuesday…

Just before I took the R25 guiding me towards Bronkhorstspruit, there was this curiosity on the side of the road with around 500m of make-shift stalls on the side of the road with people briskly doing trade of fresh fruit, vegetables and curios. It really did look odd hey. Anyway, just after this flea-market was the turn-off onto the R25. This road starts of in Johannesburg and takes you all the way here. So, whereas most people join the R25 at the other end, I joined it at the opposing end. It greeted me with a dead cow on the side of the road. I did not take a picture!!!

I mentioned the newly-laid tar on the R544, which I branched off onto from the R25. Travelling down the R25 would take you to Bronkhorstspruit which is around 50km away from Witbank towards Pretoria. The R25 would then take you through Kempton Park and onto Johannesburg. It’s not an impressive road by any measure though unlike the road above – smooth roads taking you into the horizon…

I’m not really sure what this monument commemorates. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be some war memorial. Then again, anyone with eyes would associate the old coat of arms and antique shotgun to a war memorial!

This was truly the weirdest thing I have seen in my entire time here. It is, what appears to be, a truck tyre graveyard. Old tyres don’t get retread or melted down to make new ones – they travel from far and wide all the way to Witbank to die in peace on a farm 25km from the town. I somehow thought about the Elephant Graveyard from The Lion King and then realised that apparently Glenwood in Durban is actually an old Elephant Graveyard which explains why there are so many ants there. Not sure how true that is though!

As dusk crept up on me, I concluded my journey by driving into a derelict part of Witbank that I had not encountered before. At this point, one has to use gut instinct and prior knowledge of the town to figure out where to go and how to actually get back home. Nevertheless, as darkness fell and I reached home, it seemed, for once, an ending that I wouldn’t have liked. Whereas the day allowed these gems of realisation to shine on me, I ended up in a dirty metropolis at night with carbon spewing from the multitude of vehicles rushing home after an equally polluted day. I guess everything doesn’t end with a happy end but you need to cherish the memories that you gained on the way – even though they were fleeting drive-bys or short-stops like I made at the various attractions on the way. Nevertheless, it has been something I don’t want to forget J

Day 44: Please send those Bags up to Room 16

Probably the most important part of staying away from home for extended periods of time is the lodging. Staying in a place that you do dislike for valid reason could make the whole experience rather uncomfortable. Then again, what constitutes comfortable is a whole other cup of tea – when the place has all the basics creature comforts, one should be happy with it especially if you are staying and eating for free! Then again, there are others who always find fault and complain about basically everything. I obviously did encounter that type of person and so have you a few blogs ago. Anyway, said person was removed from the guesthouse that we stayed at so I guess all ended quite well! Anyway, the guesthouse that I stayed at was the Klein Bosveld Guesthouse – very homely establishment and the stay was rather enjoyable. It had modern conveniences like WiFi (thank God!) and it looked pretty too! Here are some pictures.

This is the main reception building. We had our breakfast and supper there. Both were buffet type meals and I found one of the most awesome breakfast combos! What you do is toast your bread (I prefer white), then whilst it is hot, butter it and put some grated cheese on top. Then take some avocado, slice it thinly and place it on top of the grated cheese. Then you eat it. You are welcome to admire it but that might constitute playing with your food. I ate that almost every morning and the odd thing – I’m not a fan of avocado! Anyway, another feature was they always had two jugs of juice left out for both breakfast and supper. I have a weird liking for juice.

Just some views of the buildings that house the rooms. As you can see, we did go in winter seeing that the tree was a bit naked. I stayed in the building behind the tree.

Aaaah, my room; my lovely room and as you can see, King Size bed! Booyah! Although I didn’t require the entire monstrosity of a bed, it did come in handy when I kept my laptop in one corner, my clothes on the other and the pies from the Sasol down the road (both of them…depending on the night!) under the electric blanket on the other end. The plug-points were stationed behind my bed and were normally used for the bedside lamps and electric blanket and the rather useless panel heater on the wall. I ended up plugging in maybe two additional double adapters to cater for my external hard drive plug, cellular phone plug (both of them!), power cable for the laptop, the panel heater and the electric blanket. I also learnt that water makes a real good heatsink, though seeing that I spend so much time at a Power Station that releases tonnes of steam into the atmosphere every second, this should have been apparent!

In hindsight, taking a picture that looks cool rather than one that shows the contents of a room wasn’t the best idea. This was taken in the clubhouse which had this moerse enormous TV, an honesty bar, pool table and a dartboard. The toilet seat in the loo was the funkiest I’ve ever seen ever – a hardened, clear resin with nuts, bolts and nails embedded in it. The honesty bar worked on the principle that the guests would help themselves to the alcohol but write down what they take on a list and at the end of the month or end of your stay, you settle the bill. Anyway, I could have shown you all of this – BUT, how cool is this vintage Coke freezer???

How cool is this dude? Anyway, so yeah, that’s a brief tour of my humble abode for the last 40 or so days and will be for around another 20.

Day 38: Where tractors and vetkoek collide

I took a drive to Bethal. Yes, that is indeed what I did. We finished early at the Plant today so, using my adventurous spirit and petrol that I wasn’t paying for (I did but we’ll get to that in time) and took a drive to this well, little town. I was going to call it a hamlet but it was rather industrious looking as such and can’t really be called a hamlet. Then again, it is in Mpumalanga – the part that possesses all the coal mining towns. I did enjoy the drive thoroughly actually even though it wasn’t really that scenic. Then again, it was prettier than the drive to Ermelo. Oh well, I’m rambling – let us get to the pictures.

What possessed me to drive to Bethal was basically the Duvha turnoff. On our way out of Witbank, there goes a road that takes you deep into Mpumalanga. Before we get that deep, we turn at Duvha. What lies beyond? Does it take me to the land of milk and honey? Apparently not – it’s more like a badly kept road with several potholes and the marvellous view of mine dumps. It does clear up and just before you hit the R35, you get a nice view of Komati Power Station.

Komati is one of the Return-To-Service Stations that was mothballed in the late 80s and early 90s when supply way outstripped demand. Basically, there were several stations running for around 50 years, with 50 year old technology. It made sense to close down the plants that were using outdated technology and instead, use the larger plants that generated much more electricity at higher efficiencies. At that time, there were plants like Kendal with generators producing in excess of 600MW whilst older stations, like Taaibos and Highveld had generators rated at 60MW. Komati was one of the “old school” stations with, if you look at the picture, eight cooling towers. The generator set consisted of five 100MW units and four 125MW units – not as much as the six-pack stations but better than the antiquated 60MW units. Anyway, in recent years, electricity capacity has dictated that Komati, like Grootvlei and Camden, be brought back into service. So far, Camden is back online and Komati will be brought back onto the grid within a few years. One can see the new smoke-stack that has been built – just one of the modernisations that has been introduced to the station. Like Hendrina, these larger, older stations make for exquisite viewing and as I’ve said, it’s not exquisite like the Italian lakes but well, they do have that effect of awe on the mind!

The R35 runs, basically, between Middelburg and Bethal. From my experience, it was a relatively well used road (and by this, I mean that you passed a car every five to ten minutes as opposed to other roads where you won’t see a car for half an hour!) in really good condition and the odd sign pointing to a German sounding town. There were a lot of these towns on the way mind you.

As with all of these R roads, they have these weird little quirks which make the drive oh so enjoyable. One incident on this road was the appearance of this tractor on the road. As luck would have it, there was oncoming traffic when I reached the tractor! Once these cars passed, the tractor made a very sharp right; drove across the other lane and into the field. I just looked at it with that look on your face which mixes a smile, laughter and WTF.

So I reach Bethal and drive around, admiring the town. Then I find a Baby Friendly Hospital. Apparently, the other hospital in town is waging a war against babies since 1996 with both factions now at a deadlock. Bloodshed might follow in the next few months. Watch the press. Lol

As with all quaint, little towns, Bethal is equipped with a rather pretty looking church with a steeple!

It also has the obligatory Indian businessman that buys a centre and makes a pretty good living by selling to the townsfolk.

If you have read my blog, you would know how dumbfounded I am that people eat so much meat. Well, this just dumbfounded me even more – the store name implies that it is your one-stop vegetable market yet…THEY SELL CHICKEN!!!

I’m guessing this was jumping!

And this all brings me to this take-away establishment – a rustic looking tea room type shop claiming to sell. “The Tastiest Take Away Ever.” It’s a relatively eye-catching store on the main road into town and my eyes (and stomach) were drawn to it just to test out this claim. My problem was that, as a vegetarian, I was not able to sample their finest cuisine. Nevertheless, I thought that a good way to test the place out was to order Vetkoek which should, ideally, taste divine regardless of the filling. Herein lies my second problem – I walk into the shop, take a look at the menu and alas, it is in Afrikaans which is hardly a language I am strong in! I recognised the words “vleis” (grr…more meat!) and “kaas.” The kaas option would mean probably vegetarian unless these people grated some biltong along with the cheese. Judging from the menu, I wouldn’t be surprised. So I walk up to the counter, order a “Kaas Vetkoek” in my best Afrikaans, hand over my R5 (Yes, ONLY R5) and get back a paper bag with oil visibly seeping into it. It looked yummy, it tasted yummy too! It probably had more oil than a tanker as well. Seeing that I’ve not tasted a lot of Vetkoek, I’ll go with say that this was the ‘tastiest ever.’ Lol!

Oh I also bought boxers from this random clothing shop. R15 each – almost as cheap as Durban! I also ran out of petrol on my way to Bethal meaning I had to fill petrol! Shock! Horror! The sad bit was the petrol claims were not on my name meaning the R100 that entered the tank was lost from my pocket forever. It was truly a sad day…

The trip back took me back on the R35. The one thing I don’t enjoy is travelling the same road twice. It almost seems a waste of, well, exploration. It does have it’s perks in that you are able to stop and take pictures of the weird and wonderful sites that you didn’t capture onto celluloid because you were travelling at 120kph and by the time you stopped, you were a good half a kilometre down the road. You also “know” the route so any potholes will be anticipated and you can time yourself pretty well – especially if sunset is pending. These R roads usually have cat-eyes but there are many that don’t – travelling at night on these roads is not recommended. But these reason pale in comparison to driving down the great unknown through scenery you have never encountered before. Luckily, around 10km outside Bethal, there was a sign indicating, “Witbank.” So I took it…

The excitement of this road lay in the fact that it was nearing dusk and there were no cat-eyes on this road! Also, if you have listened to travel stories from people who go out to the mines, you are sure to have heard the mythical stories of driving at 120kph on the dirt skirtings on the side of the road just to avoid the potholes that would devour your entire car even if you had a Hummer. This road started beautifully – long, gently sloping and incredibly straight roads with maximum visibility where you could unleash the true power of your car. A few kilometres later, the road had me driving more on the dirt than on the road with occasions where I braked from 120kph down to around 20kph just to navigate the potholes. This coupled with me trying to beat the sunset made for one of the most exciting drives I’ve ever taken.

Tired, I entered into the municipality of Witbank with Duvha welcoming me back to civilisation. What I saw was the bare soul of industrial Mpumulanga and what we have done to it in pursuit of fuel, power and money. It was a rewarding drive though and, well, it put a smile on my face!

Day 37: Hi, my name is Fred and I stuff toads

So I start of here as I regularly start off – cursing myself for not blogging earlier! This is especially important seeing that I actually had some real cool things to blog about. Alas, the thoughts have evaporated high into the stratosphere to be maybe found one day by a Russian oke name Johan – you know globalisation nowadays, names aren’t the best way to figure out where somebody is from.

I remember reading something somewhere about this lecturer that invited an old guy to his class one day and made him come to the front of the class and answer any questions fielded by the students. So the students started of asking him the usual stuff that you ask people when you meet them – basically, stuff which just lets you get to know the person on the surface. It’s something people do – never really delve really deep into someone when you first meet them. So after a while, there was that atmosphere of like boredom, well, not boredom, but that feeling you get when you run out of things to ask people and then talking to them starts feeling a bit weird because you seemingly have nothing to talk about! Anyway, then one student asked the dude what made him so special and then the guy told them this really awesome story. I can’t remember what the story exactly was but after that question broke the ice, the students were engrossed with the guy’s stories and they ended up talking to him for a few hours.

Something similar happened to me today with this guy I met. He basically had been with us for two full days taking us for Presentation Skills and, well, I knew that he appeared to be a good oke who, course-wise, was actually a real good facilitator even though the method he used would make you think he wasn’t! Just on that, basically, for the whole first day, he basically briefed us on certain skills and then left us for an hour, then told us some more stuff. This went on for the whole day and, because my presentation was done already, didn’t really feel right to me! Well, on the next day, when I did the presentation, everything came together and by the end of the day, I was seriously impressed. I need think and put my finger down on this style of teaching though!

Anyway, at the end of the second day, which was the end of the course, I asked him a few questions and it just brought this depth that I wanted to explore more and more and more! He is a writer by profession, per se, as he has a book that will be released soon and he also plays music – I think he does gig doing blues and jazz type music. He actually is in the process of self-teaching himself the saxophone. The saxophone is a pretty difficult instrument to actually play mind you! His son also plays in a relatively new, but pretty successful Metal band.

There is a little theory I have which I apply especially to Durban. In Durban, it seems that everybody there is a stoner. People from all walks of life; colour, creed, economic stature, social stature – people in every sector of life smoke! Getting hold of weed is easier than shopping for bread at Spar. It’s absolutely everywhere and is probably the reason why a lot of people don’t go hungry at night – they have a little business selling weed! Also, the types available are endless as you can pick and choose the potency and price that you want and you will get some weed of that price somewhere! BUT, the thing with this is that if you don’t know where to get weed from or if you don’t smoke because you were never exposed to it, you WILL be completely oblivious to this! You could live your entire life not meeting a single smoker or even a dealer. You would believe that weed, as a drug, is not a problem at all.

I’m sure everyone remembers the movie, “Fight Club,” with its underground culture of bare-fist fighting to satiate the needs of some people. I’m sure you remember Guy Ritchie’s, “Snatch,” with the unregulated boxing matches run by prominent underworld figures who accept bets on matches that are thrown. Well, take these two movies, remove all the niceties like gloves, medical care, and staying alive and you won’t get anywhere close to what is, apparently, rife in the underworld of South Africa. What actually is happening is that there are these Fight Clubs run by the underworld guys where they get people to fight to the death and there is a whole gambling system attached to this. Also, there apparently are a lot of young children who are pulled into this and they are made to fight opponents that they could never match up to. And, as I said before, these fights are to the death. The scary thing is that this is happening in the world and, if you are reading this from a city in South Africa, it’s happening less than 50km away from where you are presently sitting. There is a movie that’s in the pipeline that will expose this but, well; it will only come out by next year. Imagine how many people are going to lose their lives by then. It’s quite mind-boggling to really believe that the type and nature of parallel lives people in this country actually lead. Then again, look at that kid who did some sword-wielding whilst wearing his Slipknot mask and ended up killing some innocent guy. I’ll go into at some other point in time. Anyway, I met another dude that was involved with this. Scary huh!

Anyway, the whole amazing thing was that I got exposed to something in the world that I would never had known about if it not had been for asking this guy what he’ll be doing after the course. And this too was provoked by him saying that he won’t be doing this course with subsequent students for the next month because of commitments with his publishing firm. And without that, I would have not found out about the guy involved in the film. The untapped knowledge out there is so vast yet we, as people, haven’t fully tapped into it. The other thing is, how do you actually find out if someone actually has stuff of value to impart onto you? You can’t really go up to some person waiting for their burger at KFC and start a conversation with them with the line, “So what make’s you so interesting?” I guess that blogging by people in the know helps and my new found favourite toy, StumbleUpon which has completely altered my life even though I’ve been using it for a week! Just bookmark your site and someone will surely find it and maybe, just maybe, it will help them in their lives in some way.

Day 32: Olympics, the Beijing 2008 wrap up

If you have been reading my other blogs, you would have noticed that I was a tad addicted to the Olympics this year. Then again, I have been addicted to the games for ages with the first one that I remember being Barcelona 1992. Those were truly mesmerising especially since I had a little hobby back then which centred on the flags of countries. I knew basically every country’s flag. No really, just show me a flag and I knew which country it was. The opening ceremony in Barcelona was just awesome – I sat with my box of crayons and drew every country’s flag as they came in. I remember the South African Olympic flag then – with the silver background with the multicoloured stripes and the Olympic rings. I was quite chuffed about that seeing that I could use my Silver Crayola! That was so cool. I can actually picture the team walking into the stadium but for the life of me, I can’t remember who the flag bearer was!

Atlanta 1996 was one of South Africa’s most emotional games with Josiah Thugwane winning the marathon. That was an experience hey! Anyway, we were on holiday somewhere when the ceremony was one, I think it was Sun City though, and I basically missed the ceremony because my parents made me sleep! GAH! But Sydney 2000, that’s when I was an addict of note! The internet, by that time, was pretty mature (even though nobody could have predicted the coming of Web 2.0) and the Olympics website was one of the best websites of that era. In retrospect, it kicked the ass of the Athens and Beijing site! One of the sports that actually hooked me during the games was Gymnastics and the rivalry between the Russians and Romanians. I remember the organisers had set the vault 5cm too low and it caused chaos before one of the Australians realised this and they reset it! Then there was Svetlana Korkhina, probably the tallest gymnast ever, falling on the uneven bars which was HER event. Finally, the Women’s Individual All-Around Finals. One Andreea Raducan, a 16 year old Romanian gymnast put on one of the most amazing performances in every event. Moreover, the Romanians had taken the other two podium positions with Khorkina being relegated to one of the minor spots even though she was one of the favourites. Within a few days, chaos broke out when it was revealed that she had doped! BUT, to add to the scandal, the doping agent was a drug called Nurofen. And yes, that is the over-the-counter painkiller that you can buy at any Pharmacy, actually, I think you can buy it at Checkers! The night before the event, she needed some painkillers so the team doctor obligingly handed her a Nurofen which, at the time, contained a banned substance. As a 16-year old, I am guessing you would trust your doctor to be knowledgeable about the ingredients of the drugs that he administers. Well, in this case, apparently he wasn’t and that cost her Gold. The case was a bit different from the usual drug cases as, basically, all the women gymnasts rallied behind her. Except for losing the Gold, she wasn’t reprimanded (the doctor was though) and the entire gymnastics community rallied behind her. It was quite weird seeing that most drug cases end up with the athlete being ostracised. Anyway, this year’s gymnastics were a bit different.

I guess that the hype before the tournament wasn’t that huge centred on single athletes. But yikes, that Chinese team! Apart from being below the age of 10, they were amazing. Their moves were just perfect and they really did deserve the team Gold that they did take. The whole age scandal though, or as some have put it, Age-Doping, was so blatant. Just looking at the rest of the athletes in other events made you scratch your head and wonder if these girls are really 16! Even that 14 year old British diver looked much older than these girls. I wonder if humans are like trees and grow an extra ring for every year that they are alive – it would put a whole new dimension to the whole age testing thing. The one quirk about the gymnastics was the athlete from USA named Shawn Johnson. She was pretty hot but her name was Shawn! It’s like that song by Desmond & The Tutus “Peter” about a girl named Peter and how the singer really has some issues falling in love with her because of her Boys name! Anyway, this time around, I think the guys actually outdid the women’s teams when it came to actual excitement. But um, women’s gymnastics is so much better to watch!

The highlight of the Games, professionally, was one Michael Phelps, an American who was born to a family of Mermaids of the coast of Maine who actually gave him away to a human family because of the strife and border wars between the Mermaids of Maine and whatever state lies next to it. Apparently, the family’s home was Water-Hammered and they figured Michael would do better on land. Well, the Americans didn’t complain seeing that he went about and got EIGHT Gold medals. Yes, EIGHT which is exactly EIGHT more than South Africa won. The guy is just amazing as an athlete and watching him swim with such poise and ease boggles the mind. I’m trying to imagine being in the Water Cube and seeing him in action. Watching this on TV does not give any indication of speed – try swimming a lap and see how long it takes! I did feel sorry for the, I think, Belgian, who came out second in most of Phelps’ events. This is where the beauty of the Olympics is seen – the triumph of human endeavour is showcased and these sculpted versions of the human race do things unimaginable to all those watching. It’s the thrill of competition at its highest level – athletes train their whole lives for this moment and at that moment, they achieve things that nobody thought possible. One Jamaican aptly named Usain Bolt showcased this on a much larger scale at the premier event of the Games – the men’s 100m sprint. His time, 9.69s (I think!) was just mind-boggling. Nobody could fathom a time that fast only five years ago. Then he went and won another two events with more World Records. It was quite surprising that the Jamaican sprint team had a brilliant Olympic Games in the male and female disciplines. Pity that the Games had Phelps otherwise Usain would be like God!

The South African issue was something that was so well publicised during the games. Whereas in the past Olympics, we had progressively got more medals, all that came back to South Africa this time was Mr. Mokoena’s solitary Silver from the Long Jump event. This, he lost by just a few centimetres to a dude from Panama. I think they practice by jumping over the canal so I don’t think it was such a bad thing to lose to him. Anyway, there was all the stories of bad funding and non-focus, especially with the swimming team who did us so proud last time but this time, well, yeah, you could be forgiven if you thought we actually didn’t compete in the swimming events! But, my view is that the world is getting way, way too good and although SA is also progressively getting better, it’s just not enough to win medals. I remember watching the heats of the swimming one morning. There were, I think, ten or so heats for the event with the first seven being unseeded heats with competitors from every country you can imagine. These were basically swimmers chosen as the best their country had to offer even though their times were no where close to world class. However, the South Africans ONLY swam in the seeded heats with the best that the rest of the world had to offer. Not a single person qualified for the finals (or was it semi-finals) from the unseeded heats mind you. What does this show? Basically, we aren’t just putting anyone into these events – the South Africans who did qualify have proved themselves and are worthy of being there! The famous swimming relay team that won Gold in Athens last time around were placed seventh in the finals. BUT, the time they swam was a few seconds faster than the time that they swam four years ago. The problem was that the American team (with Phelps) were a few seconds faster than them! The same story with other events where the local athletes did the best time that they’ve ever done but still weren’t placed anywhere. They swallowed the essence of the Olympic spirit and broke every personal boundary that they had within them. What more can you ask of the athletes?

But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have won medals. There is obviously so much more that is needed to be done before London in 2012. The problem is that the culture of sport is really dying in South Africa. There was no real business sponsor for the team this time around and the kit was supplied by the specialist sports brand, Mizuno. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Olympic committee had to purchase the kit! Money is going into the other three big sports (well, um, two because Soccer doesn’t count as a National Sport anymore!) and nothing is going into Olympics sports. This is while there are countless companies turning over such huge profits that you would get dizzy just by looking at the amount of appended zeros! Then again, companies want to be identified with something special and, well, our Olympic superstar, Oscar Pistorius, didn’t even qualify for the Games! So putting money into the Games did not make business sense for the companies. But, this doesn’t mean they should sit back and do nothing until 2011 and then take a look around and hope that there is an athlete – I think that there really needs to be money pumped into sports to basically make sure our athletes do make a mark in 2012. And they have a wealth of talent to choose from. Our young Fencing team is a perfect place to start – they didn’t perform but, well, the experiences were amazing and, with enough resources, imagine what could happen at the next Games. Also, the dudes that participated in the Mountain Biking and BMX racing are brilliant stars of the future. Nhlapo, the BMXer, became South Africa’s darling and he was just plain unlucky with the crash he had on the last corner. Less publicised was our Mountain Biker (and I forgot his name…) who is only 20 and finished in the Top 20 in the event. Even the commentators said that by 2012, he is probably going to be the one to watch.

One thing that was commented on was the British Cycling Teams whole training schedule. The Brits basically cleaned out the track cycling medals with wins in almost every event. This was due to a training schedule that was centred on only winning. No politics or worries about anything else – the programme was developed around ten years ago to make sure that come Beijing, the most well prepared side would be fielded and win everything. And this they achieved. As I said earlier, I think our approach in South Africa should be similar – pick a sport and aim for glory in 2016. The one problem is that South Africa has this culture of holding onto elements in teams that have historical significance yet aren’t at the top of their game. This is evident in Rugby, Soccer and Cricket as well as our Swimming relay team fielded in the Games. The Brits cycling plan was to tell the athletes that if they want to be in the team, they would need to prove it and if this approach can be taken, well, maybe we could win something. So I guess, we should look forward to a clean sweep of the Fencing medals in 2016! But hey, until the bureaucracy that controls sport now sorts itself out, medals are just a pipe dream.

The one thing I wanted to address was the whole politicisation of the Games due to it being held in China. Yes, China is terrible with human rights and what they do to personal freedoms and Tibet, well; there are millions of publications out there documenting this. For me, I did understand this but there was always this BUT in the back of my head which made me believe in the Olympic spirit. Back in Ancient Greece, wars were suspended for the duration of the Olympics due to it being so sacred. As I said before, it is a pure expression of human excellence. This Olympics did have a lot of politics attached to it especially with China, who eventually did “win” the Games with the highest medal count. Huge sums of money were obviously pumped into the training of athletes to make sure they perform – it DID happen. But (yes, but!) even though China do have that atrocious record and the numerous conflicts around the globe at that point including Russia’s invasion of Georgia, USA with their War on Terror and even the siege of Zimbabwe by our best friend Bob, the Olympics shone past that and showed that human’s can display excellence by not showing us how big guns they have, but by competing and achieving personal glory because of years and years of personal struggle to become the best. Maybe that’s clear enough – I know there will be many that don’t see the point here! Oh well!

Anyway, enough about the politics: the Games personal highlights for me were numerous! Actually, I probably can’t remember all (thank you oh wonderful brain that never remembers anything!) but I’ll just jot down some of them here. The Opening Ceremony obviously was a high point – it was a spectacle of military precision. The fireworks producing more greenhouse gases than several countries do in an entire year. The colours and the amazing floating rings – wow! And finally, the lighting of the torch, done by raising the athlete to roof level and then having him “jog” around the roof of the Bird’s Nest stadium until he got to the torch which had just appeared out of nowhere – that was just spectacular. Then again, I think after Barcelona where the Archer shot the arrow into the vessel, every host city needs to do something of exception. The Closing Ceremony was not as grandiose but it was still amazing. I loved the skit put on by London though – it was nowhere close to Chinese perfectionism but it still mesmerised. Anyway, sporting wise – wow, there’s SO many! The Spanish Gold in the Cycling Road Race and the surprise win by the Argentineans in the Men’s Madison. That was one of the coolest races to watch with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish riding for Great Britain. How they did not win is something that boggles the mind! One of the sports you’d not expect for upsets was the White Water Rafting where that dude from Togo eventually came out third. At one stage, he could have won the race! It was Togo’s first medal ever! The huge upsets in Boxing were surprising with Cuba not pocketing a single Gold! Another headline was what happened to one of the American’s that competed in the Shooting event. Four years ago, he lost the title on the last shot because he missed the target completely. When you are at this level of competition, this simply does not happen and it never happens twice. Or does it? Well, um, he lost the title YET AGAIN, on the last shot with the same thing happening! Talk about bad luck!

Anyway, those were just a few highlights of mine. The rest is documented in Gold! I love the Olympics and well, it’s a four year wait till the next one. Hopefully, I’ll be there!