The Springboks and Bafana Bafana may have had forgettable years, but there was still a lot to be proud of from a South African perspective.
Coming up with this list was not difficult, and the fact that this list of achievements was so diverse is a good indication that South African sport is still in a generally healthy state.
In chronological order, here are 10 of South Africa’s sporting highlights of 2017.
Be sure to check out the links back to the stories to see exactly how they happened.
1. GIFT NGOEPE’S MLB DEBUT
On April 27, the 27-year-old Randburg-raised Ngoepe made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a moment that South Africa celebrated, even if collectively we don’t have the best understanding of the sport. Ngoepe had to wait eight years for his MLB debut after signing with the Pirates back in 2008. Unfortunately, the Pirates traded Ngoepe to the Toronto Blue Jays last month.
2. BLITZBOKS CROWNED WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS
The Blitzboks were crowned World Rugby Sevens Series champions in May. Under coach Neil Powell, they won five of the season’s 10 2016/17 tournaments, cruising to the title ahead of England in second and Fiji in third. It was South Africa’s second ever World Series title and first since the 2008/09 season, and it didn’t hurt that it came at a time when the Springboks were at their worst. The Blitzboks have also got off to a good start in 2017/18, winning in Dubai and finishing third in Cape Town.
3. CHAD LE CLOS MAKES HISTORY
It’s been another good year for South Africa’s 2012 London Olympic hero. Following his disappointment at last year’s Olympics in Rio where he finished fourth in the 200m butterfly, Le Clos bounced back to win gold at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest in July. He also finished top of the 2017 FINA World Cup standings, becoming the first ever man to win the title four times. He will be eyeing more success at the Commonwealth Games next year.
4. GREG MINNAAR EXTENDS HIS LEAD AS THE GREATEST
He is 35-years-old, but Pietermaritzburg’s Greg Minnaar showed no signs of slowing down in 2017, winning two more World Cup events throughout the season. He won in Fort William, Scotland in June and in Lenzerheide, Switzerland in July, taking his total number of World Cup wins to 21. Nobody in the history of Downhill MTB has more. Minnaar would go on to finish third in the World Cup standings behind Troy Brosnan and Aaron Gwin.
5. LUVO MANYONGA’S RAGS TO RICHES STORY
Having stunned the world to win the long jump silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Manyonga went one better in 2017 by winning gold at the IAAF World Championships in London in August. It was the next chapter in what is becoming the ultimate rags to riches story. Manyonga’s battles with drug addiction have been well-documented, but his performance in London was another reminder that he has put that dark part of his life behind him.
6. WAYDE VAN NIEKERK WINS WORLD CHAMPS GOLD
The darling of South African sport, Van Niekerk built on his Rio heroics by cruising to gold in the 400m in London. The 25-year-old also won silver in the 200m as he seeks to take over from Usain Bolt as the most feared sprinter in the world. A not-so-impressive moment came in October when he injured himself playing in a celebrity tag rugby match. As a result, he will miss next year’s Commonwealth Games.
7. NOBODY CAN TOUCH CASTER SEMENYA
Like Van Niekerk, Semenya completed the double by winning gold in the 800m at the World Champs having done the same in Rio the year before. She also raced in the 1500m, winning bronze. Semenya could have her silver medal from the 2012 Olympics upgraded to gold if Russia’s Mariya Savinova is stripped of her title following a doping drama. That would make Semenya the most decorated South African track athlete of all time.
8. KEVIN ANDERSON REACHES US OPEN FINAL
The big-serving South African shocked the tennis world when he progressed all the way through to the final of the US Open in September. It was the first time that a South African had played in a Grand Slam final since Kevin Curren (who had already become a US citizen) in 1985. Anderson lost to Rafa Nadal in the final, but seeing a South African in a Major final was a rare and enjoyable moment.
9. DAVID MILLER HITS QUICKEST T20I TON EVER
It wasn’t the best year for cricket with the Proteas bombing out of the ICC Champions Trophy, but David Miller did make headlines when he smashed a 35-ball century in the second T20I against Bangladesh in Potchefstroom. It is the fastest T20I century in cricket history, and it included an over of 31 that saw Miller hit five sixes in a row.
10. BRANDEN GRACE BRINGS NEDBANK CHALLENGE BACK TO SA
Last month Grace became the first South African to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge since Trevor Immelman in 2007. Grace shot a final round of 66 to finish a single stroke ahead of Scott Jamieson. It was a special moment for South African golf as legend and tournament host Gary Player looked on.