Rio de Janeiro – It is the most gutting of stories, and it could not have happened to a more influential player.
Seabelo Senatla has been the superstar in the Blitzboks set-up since 2013 and a fundamental part of the build-up to Rio 2016.
His finishing and raw pace have combined to make him one of the most feared players on the world circuit.
If South Africa were going to succeed at the Olympics, nobody would have deserved it more than Senatla.
But tragedy struck on Wednesday when, in South Africa’s quarter-final against Australia, he injured his wrist.
Speaking after that match, Senatla was confident that he would be okay to play in Thursday’s semi-final against the Australians.
But those who were there and saw the way he was nursing his right hand had their doubts.
The news on Thursday morning was not good, and while the Blitzboks prepared for their semi-final Senatla was at hospital having his worst fears confirmed.
He was withdrawn from the squad and replaced by Francois Hougaard, and IOC regulations – rightly or wrongly – meant that he would not be one of the 12 players who stood on the podium and received a medal.
There was a touching moment when Blitzbok management scurried behind the scenes to get their superstar in a tracksuit and usher him onto the pitch to be a part of celebrations, but Senatla was still not able to take his place on the podium alongside his team-mates.
Speaking to Sport24 after the medal ceremony, Senatla was taking it all very well and he revealed that Hougaard had offered him his medal.
“It’s only fair. If the other guys come in it means that my name is taken off the list and they have to be there,” he said.
“Hougie (Hougaard) wanted to give it to me … I was like ‘No, no … you keep it. Your name is on the list.’
“He’s a very good guy and he wanted to give it to me. It’s a procedure so I only think it’s right. It doesn’t matter how much time I got or how much time he played … at the end of the day that’s how it went.”
Senatla said the team succeeding was more important than anything else.
“It’s not really about me at the end of the day, it’s about the team. And as long as the team got bronze I’m happy,” he said.
“It was great to be a part of the moment even though I didn’t get to stand on the podium.
“People don’t realise how much we gave for this. I know that a bronze medal is not ideal for us because of the standards we have, but to stand on the podium and be one of the top three teams is quite an achievement.
“To see my brothers that I worked so hard with throughout the whole year get a medal on the podium was priceless for me and such a proud moment. I felt like I was with them there in spirit.”
Senatla has fractured his wrist and will be out for around two months.