Schoeman wins triathlon medal while recovering from high fever
Henri Schoeman won a surprise bronze in the men’s triathlon at the Rio Olympics yesterday, just two days after he lay in bed with high fever, weeping for his misfortune.
His more favoured compatriot Richard Murray blistered both his feet in a surging late run to finish fourth just seven seconds behind, and four months ago he was undergoing surgery for a shattered collarbone.
Durban-based Schoeman, a stronger swimmer than Murray, came out of the water with the breakaway and he stuck there throughout the 40km cycle, preserving his legs as much as he could.
He was sixth going into the run – his weakest of the three legs – and there he held firm while others wilted under the hot Brazilian sun on the famous Copacabana.
Schoeman was never going to catch the invincible Brownlee brothers of Britain, defending champion Alistair taking the gold and Jonathan the silver.
But he was solid enough to land the first international triathlon medal of his career, and South Africa’s eighth gong of the Games.
“I knew the heat was going to be a bit of a factor and that hard bike was also going to be a factor,” Schoeman, 24, said.
“I was saving my legs a lot so I knew towards the end there was going to be some casualties. I tried to keep my cool at the beginning and it paid off at the end.”
The last two laps of the run, however, were tough. I knew on my last lap I just had to dig deep, hold on to that third.
“That last stretch, I was basically just sprinting for my life,” Schoeman said.
Fortune was with him yesterday, he said. The breakaway “gave us the chance to get away from the faster runners behind, like Richard, Mario Mola. It just worked out all in my favour”.
Yet, Schoeman received the all-clear to race only the day before.
“A week ago, I fell ill and I’ve had fever the whole week.
“Two days ago, I was struggling with some high fever . . . I was so emotional two days ago that I was in tears. I didn’t do any training, I was just laying in bed trying to recover,” Schoeman said.
He is the younger brother of swimmer Riaan, a two-Olympian at the past two Games.
Schoeman is a former swimmer who, after he stopped growing at 1.70m, was forced to switch codes to realise his dream of making the Olympics.
“It’s hard mentally because you prepare 15 years of your life for this and you do all the best preparation that you can and all of a sudden two days before the biggest race of your life you think you’re not going to race.”
Schoeman is coached in cycling and running by his father, a former athlete, and in swimming by veteran mentor Alisdair Hatfield.
Murray’s 30min 34sec run was the fastest on the day, making up for a poor swim where he left the water in 47th place.
“Some people say I’m the first loser, but I say I’m the first winner. Three months ago people said I wouldn’t be here.”