The 2040 Johannesburg Summer Olympics
By Chris Oakley
It started as a dream in the mind of a teenager watching the 2010 World Cup, grew into a rallying cry for the people of Jo’burg, and finally became the coming of age for post-apartheid South Africa as a major player in the world of international sports. At the ripe old age of 15, Johannesburg native Evelyn Zarumba made it her personal mission to bring the Olympic Games to her hometown; more than twenty years later, she would fulfill that dream when the IOC voted to name the South African metropolis as host city for the 2040 Summer Games. The formal announcement of that vote on August 18th, 2033 set off wild celebrations throughout Johannesburg and made Zarumba, by then the city’s mayor, the focus of global attention. The Games were coming to Africa for the first time.
To those who knew her when, it seems almost inevitable that Evelyn Zarumba would be the one to bring the Olympics to South Africa. Born in 1995 in a working-class section of Johannesburg, Zarumba displayed from an early age the ability to organize and lead others; at the age of seven she enlisted the other children of her neighborhood in the production of a Christmas play, and by ten was captaining her primary school’s under-12 soccer team. In 2008, as anticipation for the 2010 World Cup tournament was building to a fever pitch, she started a fan club for the South African national soccer team and made a 15-minute video package for YouTube touting the skill and tenacity of the team’s strikers.
That video caught the attention of the Johannesburg World Cup organizing committee, and just before the 2010 Cup began they issued Zarumba an invitation to attend the semifinals and championship match as a VIP guest of the committee. It was an experience she would never forget; by the time the Cup ended the seeds had been planted in her mind for what would eventually become a quest lasting more than two decades-- the campaign to win for Johannesburg the right to host the Summer Olympics.
As a child Zarumba had originally aspired to be a singer, but by her early 20s she was pursuing collegiate double majors in political science and business; late in her secondary school career she’d made up her mind that her goal of winning the Summer Games for Johannesburg stood a better chance of being realized if she could win a foothold for herself in the city’s financial or political scenes. When Zarumba graduated college in 2020, a classmate encouraged her to enter the Jo’burg civic world and try for a seat on the city council.
By the age of 32 Zarumba was representing her old neighborhood in the Johannesburg city council and being touted as a possible successor to then-mayor Edvard van der Hoek. Van der Hoek, then in his late 80s and starting to suffer the first pangs of the heart problems which would eventually kill him, made the mistake of underestimating this newcomer when she officially declared her intent to challenge him in the city’s next mayoral elections; she made him pay for that mistake with a media-savvy campaign that exposed him as being seriously out of touch with the realities of 21st-century South Africa. Consequently, Zarumba won by a landslide and set to work making her hometown ready to serve as an Olympic host city.
One of the few notable positive legacies of van der Hoek’s tenure as mayor of Johannesburg was a five-part program to improve the city’s transportation systems, with special attention paid to its bus and subway network. In one of her first official acts as the new mayor, Zaruma ordered the program accelerated; she understood perfectly that an efficient mass transit system was a crucial element of any city’s aspirations to host an international event. Once the acceleration was underway, she gave construction crews the go-ahead to start renovating Johannesburg’s major sports venues and build dormitory complexes where it was hoped Olympic athletes would one day be housed.
In March of 2030 Mayor Zarumba formally submitted Johannesburg’s bid for the 2040 Summer Games to the International Olympic Committee. She was under no illusions that securing the Games for Jo’burg would be an easy task; there were twenty other cities also vying for that honor. The United States alone had four cities contending for the 2040 Games-- the most notable such bid coming from Los Angeles, which was hoping to host the games for the third time in its history and the first time in the 21st century. Strong bids were also being put forth by Budapest, which had already hosted the 2026 Winter Games,1 and by Havana, seeking to land Cuba’s first major international sports event since the death of Fidel Castro. There was even a brief bid by Beirut to host the 2040 Games(a bid which collapsed as Lebanon fell into yet another round of civil warfare).
But Zarumba’s patience and persistence kept her city in the thick of contention for the rights to the 2040 Summer Olympics, and as the field of potential hosts continued to narrow Johannesburg’s bid looked increasingly stronger; by April of 2032, just over two years after the South African capital had first put its bid forward, there were only five other cities still in the running for the hosting rights. Three of those challengers would be gone before the end of June-- the IOC rejected the bids from Marseilles, France and Amman, Jordan while a political crisis inside the Hungarian government forced Budapest to withdraw its own bid.
Now the only remaining obstacles to fulfilling Evelyn Zarumba’s dream of holding the Summer Olympics in her hometown were Los Angeles and Caracas....
...and one of those obstacles would be removed in short order. In February of 2033, as the days were ticking down toward the IOC’s final decision on awarding the hosting rights for the 2040 Summer Games, an underground independent Venezuelan newspaper broke the story that the chairman of the Caracas Olympic bidding committee had been secretly making bribes to key IOC officials in return for a favorable ruling on Caracas’ petition to host the Games. That in itself would have been sufficient to cause a scandal, but the article packed an extra wallop by quoting an anonymous Venezuelan police official as saying that the national government was allowing suspected narcocriminals to muscle in on key building contracts for the housing and competitive venues which were to host the Summer Games if Caracas won the hosting rights.
Venezuela’s socialist regime was outraged by these accusations and tried to discredit them by charging that they were part of a US-backed disnformation campaign against the Venezuelan government. As the old saying goes, however, where there’s smoke there’s fire, or at least a few glowing embers; three weeks after the underground newspaper first made its claims of bribery and corruption against the Caracas Olympic committee, al-Jazeera broadcast a report which corroborated many of the original charges and also hinted at the possibility Venezuela’s counterintelligence ministry was going to let Iran and North Korea use their sections of the Olympic Village to conduct espionage operations against the United States once the Games were over.
Though the IOC naturally drew intense criticism over the fact some of its officials had taken bribes, the real loser in all this was the Venezuelan government, for whom the various scandals became a public relations nightmare. Outside Venezuela there were demands for the UN and the IOC to impose heavy sanctions on Caracas; within Venezuela the streets were jammed with protests on a scale rivaling that of the anti-Hugo Chavez rallies of the early days of the country’s socialist regime. Things got so bad that the chairman of the Caracas Olympic organizing committee and his two most senior aides eventually had to resign their posts.
No amount of spin could erase the taint which the scandals put on Caracas’ effort to gain the 2040 Summer Games hosting rights, and in May of 2033, barely three months after the bribery story first saw the light of day, the Venezuelan capital reluctantly terminated its bid for the 2040 Games. The fallout didn’t end there for the socialist regime in Caracas; over the next six months a number of legislators would resign from the National Assembly in protest of the Venezuelan president’s refusal to permit an independent inquiry into the extent of the corruption infecting not only the Caracas organizing committee but Venezuela’s national Olympic sports program as a whole. Opponents of the Venezuelan government both at home and aboard called for regime change in Caracas; Cuba, whose relations with Venezuela had been going steadily downhill since Fidel Castro’s death, broke off diplomatic ties with Caracas altogether.
Now it was down to Los Angeles and Johannesburg; Mayor Zarumba and the Jo’burg Olympic Organzing Committee redoubled their efforts to get the city ship-shape in time for the IOC’s final decision on awarding the hosting rights for the 2040 Games. They knew that the integrity of a city’s mass transit systems can make or break its hopes for landing a major international event like the Summer Olympics, so they checked and rechecked Johannesburg’s subway system six ways to Sunday to make sure it could accommodate the expected influx of tourists that would visit the city over the sixteen days the 2040 Summer Games would last. The anti-terrorist unit of the city’s police department intensified its security drills in preparation for an expected assignment to guard Olympic athletes and officials.
Los Angeles and Johannesburg had equally strong cases for being chosen as the host city for the 2040 Summer Games. In fact, in one respect Los Angeles had a slight advantage-- its police force was larger than Johannesburg’s and thus could provide greater security coverage of Olympic competitive venues and housing facilities. What ultimately tipped the scales in Johannesburg’s favor were these three factors: 1)the Los Angeles Coliseum, the chief venue for the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games, was more than a century old and efforts to upgrade it for the 2040 Games were nearly six weeks behind schedule; 2)the Los Angeles area had been struck by several minor earthquakes during the late 2020s and seismologists were warning that a major tremor could happen there before 2045; 3)popular sentiment in the Olympic community held that it was about time-- past time, in fact --to bestow the honor of hosting a Summer Games on an African city.
In late July of 2033 IOC officials made their final inspection tours of Johannesburg and Los Angeles; now there was nothing left to do but wait for the IOC to render its verdict. On August 8th, Mayor Zarumba was informed via e-mail that the IOC would announce its final decision on the 2040 Summer Games hosting rights within ten days. All of South Africa held its breath...
On August 18th Mayor Zarumba hosted a meeting of friends, family, and political associates at her downtown Johannesburg apartment to watch the press conference informing the world of the International Olympic Committee’s choice of host city for the 2040 Summer Olympics. Now Zarumba would finally learn whether all that blood, sweat, and tears had paid off.
In fact, just about every TV set and computer screen in South Africa was tuned in to the press conference; one could have heard a pin drop when IOC chairman Vladimir Biletnikov stepped up to the podium to deliver the results of the committee’s vote on awarding the hosting rights for the 2040 Summer Games. "After careful consideration and review," he said, "the International Olympic Committee has voted to award the Games of the 37th Olympiad to the city of Johannesburg, South Africa..."
Those words touched off a spontaneous celebration inside Zarumba’s apartment-- and throughout South Africa. Indeed, the entire African continent was awash in euphoria as the news spread the Olympic Games were finally coming to Africa; many Africans would remember the moment they heard the IOC’s decision long after they’d forgotten the results of the individual competitions in Johannesburg. Evelyn Zarumba’s dream had become reality.
The next seven years saw Johannesburg a beehive of activity as construction crews worked to put the crowning touches on the Olympic Village, the athletic venues, and the site of the opening and closing ceremonies; the South African tourist ministry mounted a gigantic worldwide media blitz aimed at bringing vacationers to the city’s hotels and scenic attractions; and South Africa’s national Olympic committee combed the ranks of the country’s amateur sports community to assemble its team for the 2040 games.
The South African Olympic team was a fairly impressive one; its men’s boxing squad alone boasted no less than four of the world’s top twenty amateur fighters. Its track & field teams had turned in highly respectable showings at the 2032 Summer Games in Lisbon and the 2036 Games in Bangkok, and its women’s swim team had just missed a silver medal by one-thousandth of a second at the 2028 Games in Buenos Aires. But the real centerpiece of the South African contingent was its men’s soccer unit-- coached by a veteran of the 2010 World Cup, Franz Krieg, the soccer team moved with almost surgical precision on the field and were a close-knit band of brothers off it.
Krieg himself was no stranger to the spotlight; besides the 2010 Cup, he’d played at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2016 Games in Chicago, and his professional career had included stints with Britain’s Arsenal club, the AC Milan team in Italy, and Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo in the US. He’d even had a brief sojourn in Germany’s Bundesliga working as a color commentator for Bayern Munich on their TV broadcasts.
When tapped to run the South African Olympic men’s soccer team, Krieg wasted no time accepting the job: a gold medal was the one thing missing from his athletic resumé,2 and winning that medal on his home soil was in his view a perfect way to crown his career. Many of the players who later formed the nucleus of Krieg’s team would credit his hiring as the deciding factor in their decision to join the squad. While most of them were too young to have seen Krieg play in the 2010 World Cup, they were familiar with his professional accomplishments from having watched them on satellite TV; they’d also seen streaming video on his website of his goals from the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Chicago Olympics.
In the run-up to the Johannesburg Summer Games, Krieg’s team won a number of regional tournaments in Africa and faced some of Europe’s top amateur teams on a six-week-long exhibition tour. From there, they visited Los Angeles to take on a team of MLS all-stars in a charity match to raise funds for survivors of the Puget Sound earthquake and played the Brazilian national men’s team to a 3-3 tie in Sao Paulo before heading home to finish their training for the Olympics. Mayor Zarumba attended their final pre-Olympic tuneup; by an interesting coincidence, she sat in the same luxury box from which she had once viewed the semifinals and championship match of the 2010 World Cup.
To direct the pageants accompanying the opening and closing ceremonies, the Johannesburg Olympic Organizing Committee hired British theatrical producer Seamus Collingwood, who at the time was just ending a six-month stint overseeing a revival of the Broadway musical Legally Blonde in London’s West End. Like Evelyn Zarumba he’d long dreamed of being involved with the Olympic Games; in his case, the dream was inspired by an online "pen pal" friendship struck up with a member of the Thai men’s judo squad during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
The 2040 Olympics opening and closing ceremonies would be his second producing job in South Africa; his first had been with a Cape Town theatrical company as executive producer of an original satire they’d written about Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Many of the people who’d worked with Collingwood on the Mugabe play reunited with him as members of his production team for the Johannesburg Summer Games, which saved him considerable time in organizing his rehearsal schedule for the opening ceremonies because they could anticipate just about anything he might need-- sometimes before he himself did.
To ensure the dance portion of the ceremonies was the best it could be, Collingwood hired veteran French choreographer Jacqueline Dumont, who boasted a professional resumé dating back almost 25 years. Dumont was one of the most respected choreographers of her generation; news of her addition to Collingwood’s team stoked high expectations for the 2040 Summer Games opening ceremonies, and she would not disappoint....
It had been decades since the old apartheid system was dismantled in South Africa, but a hard kernel of white supremacist attitudes from that era could still be found in the extreme reaches of the far right in that country. One of the most virulent and violent examples of such attitudes existed in the form of the Afrikaner People’s Defense Party, a small but fanatic offshoot of the old Afrikaner Resistance Movement3; at its peak the APDP only had about six thousand members, but some of them were trained in making bombs and all of them believed zealously in their reactionary credo, thus making them a genuine security threat in the eyes of anti-terrorist agencies in South Africa.
In May of 2040 the Johannesburg police received a tip from one of their undercover informants that the APDP was planning a bomb attack on the Olympic Village in retaliation for the arrest of three of its cell leaders. While the tip wasn’t complete in its details, it did mention that the attack was scheduled to take place within 48 hours of the opening ceremonies and the likely target was the men’s soccer team apartments in the South African compound of the Village; Franz Krieg’s squad was predominantly black, much like the police detail which had made the arrests, and in the APDP’s eyes that made the team a suitable target for their revenge on those who’d jailed their comrades. There were also hints that the group might make an attempt to assassinate Mayor Zarumba, who’d narrowly eluded two other assassination tries the previous year.4
One month later South African anti-terrorism agents, in a raid timed to coincide with a meeting of the APDP’s executive committee, seized the group’s main compound in northwest Transvaal and arrested most of the conspirators in the Olympic Village bomb plot. To capture the rest, who had fled overseas, the South African justice ministry filed extradition warrants with courts in western Europe and in North America.5 Within two months after the Summer Games closing ceremonies, the last of the conspirators had been put in jail; by 2042 the APDP, reeling from the blows it had been dealt by the police, would splinter into a series of isolated mini-factions.
Under interrogation one of the key authors of the bomb attack plot confirmed that a plot to assassinate Zarumba had indeed been in the works at the same time as the Olympic Village bombing conspiracy but was abandoned when police raided the APDP’s Transvaal compound. As a result, the security detail assigned to guard Mayor Zarumba at the opening ceremonies was tripled lest other would-be assassins should be waiting in the wings; the Johannesburg police sent its bomb squad into the Viilage to search for, and if necessary disarm, any devices the ADPD might have managed to plant their before the Transvaal raid. Thankfully, no such devices turned up, but the experience nonetheless provided an object lesson for South African police officials in the necessity of maintaining a highly trained anti-terrorist branch not just for high-profile events but for the everyday security of their country and its people.
Franz Krieg had a dual role at the Johannesburg Summer Olympics: in addition to coaching the South African men’s soccer team, he’d been designated the flag-bearer for the South African Olympic contingent as a whole for the opening ceremonies. It was a huge honor for Krieg-- and a much-needed catharsis for the regret he’d been living with since the 2012 London Games, when a bout of stomach flu had forced him to miss out on a similar opportunity in those Olympics.6 Though he’d made a quick recovery from the flu, the pain of not being able to attend the opening ceremonies had haunted him for years afterward.7 When he got the news that he’d been selected to lead the South African Olympic team into the stadium for the Johannesburg Summer Games, it was, as he later said in a newspaper interview, "one of the four or five greatest days of my life".8
On the night of June 8th, 2040, his bronze medal from the 2012 Summer Olympics draped around the collar of his jacket, Krieg marched into Mandela Stadium at the head of the 340-man athletic contingent South Africa was fielding for the Johannesburg Olympics. By tradition two countries are always the first to make their entrance at the Games: Greece, birthplace of both the ancient and modern Olympic movements, and the host nation for the Games. The flag-bearer for the Greek Olympic squad told a reporter for his homeland’s largest online news service the next day that he could literally feel the ground trembling underneath him from the roar of the Stadium patrons which greeted Krieg when he emerged from the tunnel onto the clay of the track at the outer oval of the athletic field.
Jacqueline Dumont’s dance numbers accompanying the athletes’ entrance had gotten a rather thunderous ovation itself; backed by a fusion of traditional African rhythms and contemporary hip-hop beats, Dumont’s dancers put on a show that won raves not only from the spectators but also from arts critics all over the world. Seamus Collingwood would also get high marks for his overall production work on the opening ceremonies(with the notable exception of the laser light portion, which started prematurely as the result of a minor technical glitch).
The lighting of the torch was done by former South African national rugby team captain Harold Vanderholt, who despite the leg problems that had forced him to retire from the sport fifteen years earlier ascended the steps up to the cauldron with relative ease; the Rand Daily Mail’s front page photo of Vanderholt posing triumphantly in front of the cauldron after the torch was lit would find its way into countless scrapbooks around the world in the days and years to come.
The first gold medal of the Johannesburg Summer Games was awarded two days later in men’s cycling. In what would go down as one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, Jordan’s Abu Yussef Farouk beat pre-Olympic favorite Ian Protheroe of New Zealand in the sprint by a hundredth of a second; Protheroe, the defending New Zealander national sprint cycling champion and Pacific regional champion at the time, had a record of 34-0 going into the Johannesburg Summer Olympics and until his loss to Farouk had been considered unbeatable. What made Farouk’s win even more remarkable was that just 24 hours earlier he had been suffering from a migraine headache which nearly forced him to withdraw from the Olympic sprint competition altogether.9 Upon his return to Jordan after the Johannesburg Games, Farouk would be applauded as a national hero.
His fellow countryman Abu Muhammed Khalil, competing in the men’s 200-meter freestyle swim event, wasn’t quite so fortunate; he could only manage a sixth-place finish after getting penalized by judges for a false start. Defending Olympic champion Jean Marcheau of France, a former schoolmate of Jacqueline Dumont, took home the silver medal and 2036 bronze medallist Takeshi Hamaguri of Japan won his first Olympic gold. (It was the first of two golds Hamaguri would claim at the 2040 Summer Games; he also won the men’s 100-meter backstroke contest.)
The South African Olympic team gained its first medal on the fifth day of the Games, earning a bronze in the women’s double sculls rowing competition. South Africa’s president at the time, Anthony de Klaark, was lavish in his praise of this accomplishment, and it wasn’t just national pride talking: his niece was one of the rowers participating in the event. The South African women’s rowing squad later posted a respectable fourth-place finish in the four sculls with coxswain event and edged out Costa Rica for sixth place in the eights with coxswain race.
Though there were thankfully no acts of terrorism or violent crime in Johannesburg during the 2040 Summer Games, the South African capital did suffer a brief rash of petty crime as pickpockets, con artists, burglars, and counterfeiters swarmed on the city in order to exploit the gullible and the unwary. On the seventh day of the Games, local police made thirteen arrests for theft; two days later a French national wanted in several European countries for dealing in phony collectibles was caught trying to sell bogus 2040 Olympic souvenir pins to unsuspecting tourists. But perhaps the most notorious instances of petty theft were the so-called "2 AM burglaries"10 that plagued hotels in the Johannesburg area at the start of the second week of the 2040 Summer Games. The 2 AM burglar always struck hotel rooms early in the morning, and only when it was abundantly clear the occupants of those rooms would be gone for a while.
Police had little clue about the 2 AM burglar’s identity-- that is, until an anonymous tip and some DNA samples recovered from the scene of an especially brazen robbery led detectives to the home of a local college student known among his peers as a hardcore thrill- chaser. The unfortunate young man would end up chasing said thrills right into a prison cell; he was convicted on over two dozen counts of theft and spent three years in jail. He left South Africa as soon as his sentence was over and hasn’t been heard from since.
For every athlete who basks in the glow of victory at the Olympics, there is one who must swallow the bitter pill of defeat. What may have been the most heartbreaking such moment at the 2040 Summer Games happened during the women’s marathon, when two-time Olympic champion and world record-holder Marina Kastarova of the Ukraine saw her bid for a third consecutive Olympic gold collapse just inches away from the finish line.
Kastarova had been widely touted for months as a can’t-miss pick to win the marathon at Johannesburg; having already won back- to-back golds at Lisbon in 2032 and Bangkok in 2036 and set a world speed record in the women’s division at the 2038 New York City Marathon, she seemed a lock to take the top prize home from the 2040 Games too. And going into the final seconds of the marathon at Johannesburg it looked as if the conventional wisdom on this score would be proven right.
But when Kastarova was less than a foot shy of the tape, her luck abruptly and shockingly ran out: she got a muscle cramp in her right calf and collapsed to the ground, groaning in almost unbearable pain. She was taken to a nearby medical tent and checked over by IOC doctors, who then packed the affected calf in ice and sent her to a local hospital for further treatment; the gold medal she had been planning to take home to Kiev went instead to 2032 silver medallist Veronica Morelli of Italy. Kastarova’s archrival Susanne Ndumo of Kenya won the silver medal, while her sister Ukranian Irina Volunina clinched the bronze.
For Kastarova, having come so close to fulfilling her dream only to lose it at the last second was a fate worse than death. She sank into a numbing depression that plagued her for years after her collapse; her marriage to Ukranian army lieutenant Viktor Kastarov became strained by this depression and eventually ended in a nasty, highly publicized divorce. Her athletic career was derailed as well, since her despair wound up driving her to quit the marathon circuit and retreat into a self-imposed isolation. Kastarova hasn’t been seen or heard from in over twenty years; given the almost Garbo-like veil of secrecy she’s pulled over her life since the Johannesburg Olympics, it cannot even be positively confirmed that she’s still alive at this point.
In the field of athletic competition, controversy is an inevitable part of the milieu, and the Olympic Games are no exception. Case in point: the finals of the middleweight competition in the men’s boxing division at the 2040 Summer Games, when a scoring error by the judges at ringside was blamed for costing Hans Kleinerdorf of Switzerland a silver medal many(including Kleinerdorf himself) felt was rightfully his and awarding said medal to Kleinerdorf’s opponent, Pervez Khan of Pakistan.
Throughout the first round of their scheduled three-round bout Kleinerdorf and Khan appeared to be evenly matched, and going into the second round it briefly looked like the fight could end in a draw. But Kleinerdorf gained the advantage with a series of body blows to Khan as the second round wore on, and by the start of round three the Swiss boxer was ahead on points; if he could keep up the momentum, outside observers thought, he would most likely win the bout and the silver medal.
However, two of the judges mistakenly denied Kleinerdorf credit for landing a successful uppercut to Khan’s right jaw, while the third gave points to Khan for a punch that by all rights should have gotten the Pakistani a disqualification for hitting below the belt. When the official decision was announced awarding the victory to Khan, a riot nearly erupted in the stands and Olympic security personnel had to break up at least a dozen fistfights; Khan and Kleinerdorf were taken back to their dressing rooms via separate routes to prevent a post- match confrontation between them or their respective camps. The coach of the Swiss men’s national boxing team filed an immediate protest of the judges’ decision with the IOC, which started a full-scale inquiry into the dispute the next day.
The inquiry panel determined that the judges had indeed made mistakes in their scoring of the third round of the Khan-Kleinerdorf fight; however, the panel members couldn’t agree on whether those mistakes had played a significant role in the outcome of the bout. So the IOC ended up following a precedent first set in the pairs figure skating competition at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City: it awarded dual silvers to Kleinerdorf and Khan, a decision which did little to satisfy either man but quieted(at least for the short run) the uproar generated by the judges’ divisive original ruling.
Like the US men’s hockey team at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics sixty years earlier, the South African men’s soccer team at the 2040 Summer Games shocked the world. They’d been expected to make a quite respectable showing in Johannesburg, but few experts imagined Franz Krieg’s team would reach the gold medal match-- and almost no one thought they’d upset Brazil in that match. Even Krieg later conceded in an interview with BBC Sport that in some of his darker moments he was worried his club might miss the medal round altogether, a concern which seems rather ironic given what that club had accomplished in the weeks and months prior to the Olympics.
The South African team did get off to a rather shaky start, losing to Honduras in its opening match of the Olympic tournament and being forced to settle for a tie against Serbia in its second match; however, it soon rallied from that inauspicious debut to post convincing wins against the Ukraine, Argentina, and the Korean United Republic11 and an extra-time victory over France. In the medal round they scored wins against Russia, Mexico, Iraq, and the Netherlands and clinched a spot in the gold medal match by virtue of a 2-2 tie with the American men’s squad.12
Conventional wisdom had it that the South African team’s amazing ride would finally come to a halt when it squared off with Brazil; the Brazilian team was coming off back-to-back golds in Lisbon and Bangkok and a highly successful run in the 2038 World Cup. One sports betting firm in Las Vegas was so sure Brazil would win that they took the game off their tote board.
That would turn out to be a huge mistake. In removing that game from the board, the Las Vegas firm robbed itself of what could have been its biggest payday in five years; the few gamblers brave or crazy enough to put their money on Krieg’s team made a small fortune. After preserving a scoreless tie through the entire first half, the South Africans stung the Brazilians twice before the tenth minute of the second half to take a 2-0 lead. Brazil’s usually rock-solid goalkeeper Javier Soares made a number of glaring mental errors that almost put his team behind 3-0; lucky for him, though, the Brazilian defense kept the ball away from his net long enough for striker Paolo Mendes to cut South Africa’s lead to 2-1 on a corner kick.
It was the closest the Brazilians would get that day to South Africa; in the 84th minute of the second half South African midfielder Jon Clifton closed the door on Brazil’s gold medal hopes with a header over the shoulder of Brazilian backup goalkeeper Raoul da Vasca. The South African men’s team finished the day with a 3-1 victory and its first-ever Olympic gold. And it wouldn’t be the last time the world heard from Clifton either; he would go on to play a key role in South Africa’s run to the semifinals of the 2042 World Cup.
In the long history of the Olympic Games it has usually been the host nation which wins the most medals, and the 2040 Summer Games in Johannesburg were a reflection of that trend. South Africa finished at the top of the medal standings, with the United States coming a very close second and China tying with Australia for third. Kosovo won its first ever Olympic medal at the Johannesburg Games, a bronze in the men’s water polo event; Canada, whose Olympic program had been in a near-constant state of crisis for three years, recorded its worst-ever Summer Olympics performance, finishing in last place in all but two Olympic individual events.
The presentation Jacqueline Dumont and Seamus Collingwood put together for the closing ceremonies had a noticeably Bali theme to them-- highly fitting given that the host city for the 2044 Summer Games would be the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. As Jakarta mayor Yusuf Subarto accepted the Olympic banner from Evelyn Zarumba to signal the passing of the torch from Johannesburg to Jakarta, he knew better than anyone else he’d have some rather sizable shoes to fill in four years’ time.
Zarumba has since retired from politics, choosing to devote most of her time these days to her work as a professor for the South African Cyber-Sciences Institute in Durban. Vladimir Biletnikov is still chairman of the IOC but plans to step down following the 2066 Winter Olympics in Worcester, Massachusetts. Seamus Collingwood went on to win an Emmy for his production of the televised centennial anniversary commemoration of the 1944 Normandy landings in France and is today an executive with Britain’s ITV televison network. Jacqueline Dumont left Paris in 2053 to set up a ballet school in Montreal. Jon Clifton is presently an assistant coach with Manchester United.
1Had Budapest won the rights, it would have marked the first time in modern Olympic history that a city had hosted both the Summer and Winter Games.
2The South African men’s team won the bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Games and finished fifth at the 2016 Games.
3Of course the Afrikaner Resistance Movement was a fairly fanatical group in its own right, but that’s a story for another day.
4The first of these attempts involved a rogue APDP gunman who was taken out by an alert Jo’burg police sniper; the second, by a mentally disturbed construction worker who believed Zarumba to be an agent of the Devil, was aborted when the worker decided at the last second to commit suicide instead and blew his brains out in front of the mayor’s horrified aides as they were touring a secondary school.
5Three of the conspirators had dual citizenship: one was of mixed South African and British descent, another had been born in Canada and lived there until he was eleven, and the third was a South African- born American national who’d fled the US after being placed on the FBI’s terrorist watch list for being involved with the infamous Morehouse College bombing of 2037.
6Track star and 2011 Boston Marathon winner Jason Mgane stepped in as substitute flagbearer for South Africa at the London Summer Games opening ceremonies.
7One can only imagine how the South African men’s soccer team might have done at the 2012 Summer Games had Krieg been fully healthy when they began.
8Quoted from an interview in the June 13th, 2040 edition of the Rand Daily Mail.
9Farouk’s doctor, a former medical officer in the Jordanian army reserves, treated the migraine with the assistance of a headache specialist from one of Johannesburg’s finest hospitals; following Farouk’s win in the sprint race the doctor instructed the Olympic gold medallist to take several days’ rest to be sure he didn’t experience a recurrence of the migraine.
10The phrase was coined by the Rand Daily Mail in reference to the fact that these burglaries usually took place at or near 2:00 AM Johannesburg time.
11The 2040 Summer Olympics marked Korea’s first Olympic appearance after the signing of the 2033 reunification pact between Seoul and Pyongyang.
12The US men’s team went on to win 3-2 over Cameroon in the bronze medal game.