SASCOC Announces Olympic Sailing Team. Benji & Alex Will Fulfill Their Olympic Dreams

Benji Daniel & Alex Burger – former World Champions in the 29er Class have been announced as part of the South African Olympic squad to the Japan Olympics.
pic by Matias Capizzano

by Richard Crockett

Benji Daniel and Alex Burger, helmsman and crew respectively, have been waiting for this moment for many months – and now they are part of the South African Olympic squad heading to Japan soon.

Asenathi Jim, a double Olympian, is their manager and coach.

For these two, tenacity, patience and a strong belief in their ability to be amongst the best 49er sailors in the world, have driven them to this point. But what is absolutely certain is that it’s been a very long and very tough qualification period due to the impact of COVID. This pandemic prevented our guys from training and competing internationally due to lockdown implications, travel restrictions and more, all adding to their costs and depriving them of valuable time on the water.

In sailing, quality time on the water is paramount to success, and these guys have still managed to put in tons of time in all conditions so will be at their prime when the games begin. However, not as much time competing against the best in regattas has been possible.

I spoke to them immediately after the announcement was made this morning, and both were mightily relived, and excited, to be on the team sheet and finally going to Japan to live their dreams.

I asked Alex if having Asenathi as their coach and manager was a masterstroke? He could not enthuse enough as Asenathi is the third cog in this team, the third person who besides being a really good friend, has the experience of two Olympic Games under his belt, plus the skills needed to be part of this programme. “He’s an appropriate part of this marriage” said Alex with a chuckle!

Benji described the most difficult part of qualification being the delays and last-minute issues, cancellations and obstacles in their path to qualification. One can understand and sympathise with this as every delay, every cancelled event, and the pressure to qualify was enormous – and costly.

Benji Daniel & Alex Burger in action aboard their 49er. Now they are off to the Olympics.
pic by Liesl King

Alex was asked about the best part of qualifying. “The whole process and the opportunity to eventually qualify, with the final announcement of our names on the team sheet has been great” he said.

When I asked Alex and Benji who their biggest supporters are, Asenathi insisted on answering. “Their parents, Roger Hudson, their close friends who have lived with them throughout their campaign, and simply the massive support of so many people out there who have wanted to see them succeed. Their support is massive” he said.

“They have worked hard to get here and be selected and represent their country. Every step of the way, every corner turned, and every obstacle overcome is now behind them, so they can now smile, enjoy the moments and embrace being Olympians” is how Asenathi responded to my question of what he initially wanted to impart to this dynamic duo.

Pressure is something these guys know all about as being former World Champions in the 29er Class, they have experienced it first-hand. Both Benji and Alex know that they can, and will, perform in the big moments and too when they come against new challenges. “We will rise to them all, perform at our best and do our utmost to make South Africans proud”, is how they answer the “pressure” question.

With a month before they leave for Japan they have loads to do, as well as spending many more hours on the water, and a lot of time in the gym too, as they implement their final preparation for the biggest regatta of their lives – and the fulfilment of their Olympic dreams.