Sunette Viljoen joined a rare group of international cricketers to have won an Olympic medal when she took the silver medal in the women’s javelin event at the Rio Olympics yesterday. The 32-year-old South African had played one Test and 17 ODIs for her country between 2000 and 2002.
Competing in her fourth Olympics, Viljoen finished second with her best throw measuring 64.92 metres, behind Croatia’s Sara Kolak who had a throw of 66.18 metres. After finishing 35th and 33rd in the 2004 and 2008 Games respectively, she had missed out on a medal by just one place at London in 2012.
It was back in 2000 when Viljoen made her international cricket debut for South Africa Women, in an ODI against England at Chelmsford. At 17 years and 10 days, she was then the youngest woman to play ODI cricket for South Africa. The Rustenburg-born all-rounder also played in the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand later that year.
Viljoen’s ODI returns were modest, scoring 198 runs at 16.50 and taking five wickets at 33.20 with her medium pace. Her only half century was an unbeaten 54 against England at Lincoln in the 2000 World Cup, an innings that guided South Africa to a five-wicket win. Her best figures of 3/27 came in the same tournament, against Ireland at Christchurch.
Former South African all-rounder Sunnette Viljoen won the silver medal in the women’s javelin event at the ongoing Rio Olympics (source – gettyimages)
Viljoen’s solitary Test, against India at Paarl in 2001-02, was the last international match she featured in. Though South Africa were beaten by ten wickets, she impressed with a gritty 71 in the second innings. Her javelin career began soon after and she bagged her first gold medal at the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, India in 2003.
In her maiden Commonwealth Games appearance at Melbourne in 2006, Viljoen took the gold by a whisker – only 0.18 metres separated her from the runner-up. She repeated the feat four years later at the Delhi Games, this time in a much more convincing fashion. At the Glasgow Games of 2014, she finished second to Australia’s Kim Mickle.
After the disappointing performances in 2004 and 2008, Viljoen almost took the bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, falling short of Germany’s Linda Stahl by only 0.38 metres and thus finishing fourth. Her dream of finishing on the podium has finally been realised in Rio de Janeiro, and it will no doubt be a moment to cherish for the dual sportswoman.
This is the first medal to be won by a South African woman at the Rio Games and the country’s ninth in all. South Africa currently sit 34th on the table with a haul of one gold, six silvers and two bronzes. Besides Viljoen, Wayde van Niekerk (gold in 400m) and Luvo Manyonga (silver in long jump) have won medals in athletics for South Africa.
With this achievement, Viljoen has become only the fourth international cricketer to win an Olympic medal, and the first in 96 years. The other three were Englishmen, all of whom played Test cricket after their Olympic successes – Claude Buckenham (gold in football, 1900), Johnny Douglas (gold in boxing, 1908) and Jack MacBryan (gold in hockey, 1920).