YOUTH Olympics gold medallist Gezellé Magerman, 17, had one request for her parents – don’t make a big fuss.
But when she passed through the sliding doors into Cape Town International Airport’s international arrivals hall yesterday, more than 100 supporters burst into a chant, “Zelle, jou lekker ding (Zelle, you wonderful thing)”.
Gezellé won the women’s 400m hurdles, at the Youth Games in Nanjing, China, last week. Not only did she achieve a personal best time of 57.91 seconds, but she was the only one of South Africa’s 12 entrants to win a medal.
“She told me not to make a lot of noise, but how could we not? The whole community is here,” said Gezellé’s stepfather, Jan Filander.
Supporters and members of the extended family hired 10 taxis and arranged cars for the crowd to make the trip to the airport from Darling.
Gezellé’s teachers and fellow pupils from La Rochelle Hoërskool travelled from Paarl.
“The whole of Darling is here to celebrate with us,” said mother Janine Filander. “We told her, Gezellé, just go and enjoy yourself. You are already the Boland, SA and African champion. To us you are already a winner.”
Gezellé’s father, Jan, said people from the West Coast had helped to raise money for the athlete. Singing competitions, langarm dances and other fund-raising events were held in Darling, Vredenburg, Moorreesburg and Atlantis.
“This paid for physiotherapy, doctors, her special eating plan and a little of spending money in China.”
All Gezellé could do was smile as the crowd erupted.
The cheers gave way to singing as fellow pupil Cara Paulse played Welcome to Cape Town on her saxophone.
As supporters, teachers and politicians crowded around to congratulate her, Gezellé kept smiling, but did not get a chance to speak. Her parents said everyone wanted to meet her.
Darling resident Helen Daniels said the town saw Gezellé as a “pioneer”.
“She shows us that we all can achieve more.”
Gezellé said winning had taken a lot of work. She had stepped up her training, from two days a week to six. She said it was not until she moved in January on a scholarship to La Rochelle, which had dedicated coaches, that she began winning at big events. Although she had competed at South African championships, she had not finished in the top three. This year, however, she had won the 400m hurdles at the South African Youth Championships and African Youth Games.
Gezellé’s coach at La Rochelle, Marna van der Burgh, said winning gold at the Youth Olympics could lead to dramatic changes in Gezellé’s life.
“She will probably receive offers to train overseas when she finishes school.”
By Cobus Coetzee
Follow him on twitter @CobusCC