By Blake Linder
“I just came here to enjoy the competition and didn’t even think about winning a medal. To come away with gold is exciting.”
Ruan Lange has returned from the Summer Youth Olympic Games (YOG) a national hero, having earned a gold medal in the multi-discipline mixed team event as part of Team Simone Biles.
Ruan, who started doing gymnastics at the age of nine, earned his place at the YOG by finishing as the top South African gymnast at the African Gymnastics Championships in May. He was not only the top South African gymnast at the African Champs, but also third overall in the men’s junior section as well as third on the rings, and second on the horizontal bar.
Ruan’s stellar performance at the African Champs subsequently gave him a chance to represent South Africa at the YOG in October. Ruan set off for Buenos Aires on 1 October with hopes of simply enjoying the competition – and never in his wildest dreams expected to win any form of a medal.
“I am not used to competing at big competitions like this,” Ruan said to an International Olympic Committee (IOC) reporter in Argentina. “We don’t have such big venues back home. I really had to get used to it and I was very nervous. There was a lot of pressure on me – especially because I wanted to do so well for the team.”
On each individual apparatus, Ruan was unable to earn a podium finish, coming up against some of the world’s best gymnasts hailing from some of the world’s best gymnastics countries such as Russia, Japan, the USA, and China. His best scores came on the horizontal bar and the vault, which were the two scores that counted towards his team total in the all new multi-discipline mixed team event.
In this event, gymnasts from different disciplines and nations were drawn into 13 teams, each with 12 gymnasts. Ruan found himself alongside some of the top rhythmic and trampoline gymnasts in Team Simone Biles.
When the end of the qualification rounds came and the team totals were tallied, Ruan’s team found themselves on top of the heap. While the gold medal didn’t count towards South Africa’s medal tally, it was the first-ever gymnastics medal South Africa received at a Youth Olympic Games.