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South Africa’s most successful Olympic Games

The fifth modern Olympic Games, Stockholm, 1912

At the Olympic Games in Stockholm 2 546 athletes from 28 countries participated. Only 55 of the participants were women.

The all-men South African team consisted of 21 members (7 athletes, a cyclist, a swimmer, a fencer, four tennis players and eight shooters).

Figure.3. Click on image to enlarge

This team eventually proofed to be the most successful team ever from South Africa.

The tennis players Charles Winslow and Harry Kitson combined to win the doubles.   In the men’s final Winslow defeated Kitson. Between the two of them they won two gold and a silver medal. (Figure. 3)

Three days later, on 7 July 1912, Okey Lewis, won the cycling road race.   This race was a time trial over 320 km! Because he was not one of the favourites, Lewis was second on the starting line.

Figure.4. Click on image to enlarge

He quickly passed the only rider in front him on the road.   For the rest of the race Lewis was on his own. He had no idea of his position in relation to the other riders. It was only once all the riders completed their race that it was confirmed that the time of Lewis was indeed the fastest.   (Figure. 4)

The marathon was probably the most sensational highlight in the history of South Africa’s participation at the Olympic Games. South Africa was represented by two athletes, Ken McArthur (Figure. 5) and Chris Gitsham (Figure. 6).  

Fig.5. Click on image to enlarge

After a titanic struggle of virtually the whole course, McArthur won the race and Gitsham came in second. Mc Arthur was born in Northern Ireland and came to South Africa after the Anglo-Boer War to serve in the South African constabulary.   Here he married an Afrikaans woman and for the rest of his life he stayed at Potchefstroom.

Fig.6. Click on image to enlarge

Because McArthur only wrote his name as “K.K.McArthur” on his entry form, sports reporters who knew he was called “Ken” assumed his name must be “Kenneth”.  

A “Kenneth McArthur” sports stadium at Potchefstroom was even named after him.  It was only when his grave, and subsequently his death certificate, were discovered that the truth surfaced. His names were Kennedy Kane McArthur.

Another of the many myths surrounding South Africa’s participation at the Olympic Games over the years was that McArthur and Gibson agreed to run together before the race. According to this story they decided only to race each other once they entered the stadium.

Two kilometres before the end of the race Mother Nature called on Chris Gitsham.   Quite relaxed he entered the bushes expecting his team mate to wait for him. When he was back on the road he could only see McArthur disappearing over the last hill before the entrance to the stadium.

This story was never confirmed by either of the athletes involved.