At one point during the bike leg of the men’s Rio Olympic triathlon, the commentators for NBC remarked that South African Henri Schoeman wasn’t being pressured to take any pulls at the front because he was the one person in the 10-man breakaway that the others were least concerned about. That all changed when the 24-year-old started the run. Less than 2 kilometers in, Schoeman was the guy everyone except the Brownlee brothers was most worried about, as he moved into third place and held on to claim South Africa’s first Olympic triathlon medal. Countryman Richard Murray finished just seven seconds later to put two South Africans in the top four—something nobody expected before the race. Schoeman’s bronze-medal finish surprised just about everyone in the triathlon world, except Schoeman himself, who’s long been considered one of the best swimmers on the ITU circuit. The question was: Could he run?
“[The WTS Yokohama in May] showed that my running had improved, and I ran my first sub-30-minute 10K off the bike, which was a big deal for me. It gave me confidence that I can rank myself as one of the best runners in the sport, and I knew a podium [in Rio] was very possible.”
“Every triathlete has some quality that makes him unique. Jonathan and Alistair [Brownlee, the silver and gold medalists, respectively] are great role models when it comes to giving everything you have and working aggressively to be successful. I have a lot of respect for Javier Gomez [the 2012 Olympic silver medalist] as well—his achievements are unparalleled and he is a true gentleman of the sport.”
“I was at a complete loss for words and absolutely elated at the finish. I was so happy and relieved that I had finally achieved what I set out to do. It’s a dream to become an Olympian and an even bigger dream to be a medalist. It was a very overwhelming experience, and I could only wish to relive that day over and over again.”
“The Olympics was an amazing experience. To be in the Olympic spirit with all the different nations and athletes from different sports was something very special and unique. The experience of the athletes’ village and the support from Team South Africa is something I will never forget. The support from the crowds and the scenery of Copacabana Beach and the rest of Rio was quite amazing. I would’ve loved to do a bit of sightseeing after my race, but after the medal my life became very busy!”
Henri’s favorite things
Race on the ITU circuit: World Triathlon Stockholm
Pre-race meal: Grilled chicken and vegetables
Place to train away from home: Wanaka, New Zealand, or Stellenbosch, South Africa
Movie he’s seen in the last year: “Joy” or “Deadpool”
Pre-race pump-up song: “Faded” by Alan Walker
Thing about being South African: Biltong, which is a South African beef jerky. And the Rainbow Nation—South Africa is a unity of many cultures.