Philip Snyman: Beyond the field
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Josh Isaacson interviewed South African Sevens star Philip Snyman about his experience at the Rio Olympics and his future goals on and off the field.
Philippus Albertus Borman Snyman, 29, is a born-and-bred product of Bloemfontein - where he went to the famous Grey College, the proverbial conveyor belt of rugby stars.
The multi-skilled flyer, who still shares his love for farming with his dad, says he has made a promise to his wife Esteé, a medical doctor, to follow her around the globe when his Sevens career comes to an end.
However, for now - the self-proclaimed #CoffeeAddict - will continue to indulge in his current passion - travelling the globe, representing his country in the abbreviated version of Rugby Union.
Snyman, who played 70-odd games for the Free State Cheetahs and Cheetahs in Currie Cup and Super Rugby between 2008 and 2012, is a senior member of the South Africa Sevens team.
It has been a glittering career for the man who has already captained his country and featured in 37 Sevens World Series tournaments.
Snyman has two major milestones as a member of the BlitzBok team.
Having made his BlitzBok debut at the 2008 Dubai Sevens, he returned for the final two legs of the series and helped the team win the 2008/2009 Word Series (South Africa's only series triumph on the global circuit) and then, eight years later, came what is obviously his career highlight, a bronze medal at Rio Olympics earlier this year.
He missed the 2014 trip to the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, where the BlitzBoks won gold.
It has been a long, and sometimes rocky, road for Snyman - which include neck and knee injuries.
However, the hard work paid off and Snyman made up for the disappointment of 2014 by being in a podium position in 2016.
While BlitzBok coach Neil Powell had a long-term plan in place, the serious work and planning for Rio 2016 started late last year.
"From the beginning of this year we [the BlitzBoks] had a series of meetings," he told rugby365.
"[Captain] Kyle [Brown], Cecil [Afrika] and myself had a couple of meetings with coach Neil Powell. He explained why he wanted to bring in some of the 15-a-side players and have some Springboks join us for camps throughout the year.
"Even before the World Series started in Dubai and Cape Town [in December 2015] the preparation got underway."
Snyman said even though the Olympics was at the top of the team's list of priorities, they still had their obligations in the World Sevens Series - 10 tournaments between December 2015 and May 2016 - to fulfil.
"Juan de Jongh [Springbok centre], Cheslin Kolbe [Western Province fullback] and Francois Hougaard [Springbok utility back] all joined us for those first two tournaments [in Dubai and Cape Town]," he said.
"In the back of our minds the Olympics was there, but we could not ignore the World Series and literally had to take it tournament by tournament."
The BlitzBoks managed to take plenty of confidence into the Rio Olympics - after winning the Cape Town leg of the 2015/2016 Sevens World Series, before they played in eight semifinals and one other Final, finishing second in the World Series standings with 171 points.
Fiji won the 2015/2016 World Sevens Series, after managing to collect 181 points from the ten tournaments.
"It was a great World Series for us," Snyman said, adding: "We played in eight semifinals. We only won one Final and reached two others - where we came up short in the dying seconds against New Zealand or Fiji."
The BlitzBoks got their Olympic Games up and running with an impressive 24-0 victory over Spain in their opening Group B match, before they followed that victory up with another convincing performance (a 26-0 victory over France). They were defeated 5-12 by Australia in their final pool match on Day Two, but the BlitzBoks still managed to finish top of Group B and then faced off against the same Australian team in the quarterfinals.
They advance to the semifinal with a 22-5 victory. However, they came up short against Great Britain (a combined team of the four Home Unions - England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) - with a missed conversion proving to be decisive in a 5-7 loss.
The South Africa Sevens team claimed the bronze medal with a 54-14 victory over the Games' surprise package Japan.
While the South Africans celebrated their bronze medal(s), Snyman said that being part of team South Africa and getting to support and meet athletes from the other sporting codes was one the highlights of his trip.
"Arriving in Rio, at the Olympic village, the vibe was awesome," he said, adding: "Sitting in the dining hall and Usain Bolt walks up and sits next to you - that's difficult to put into words. Being at Rio was truly special and the highlight of my career.
"Normally when you go to a [World Series] tournament, then there's only 16 teams competing. Around about 200 teams stayed in the hotel and going to the village there's 10,000 athletes from all over the world. There are events every day, people competing and you watch a bit. We celebrated those small victories inside the team."
South African athlete Wayde van Niekerk won gold at the 400 metre race with a world record of 43.03 and South African swimmer Chad le Clos added to team South Africa's medal tally with silver in the men's 100 metre butterfly Final.
Snyman said some of the BlitzBoks, himself included, were fortunate enough to be able to watch both Van Niekerk and Le Clos in action during the Rio Olympics.
"We were fortunate enough to go and watch only athletics and swimming on the first night after our [Sevens] tournament.
"Kyle Brown and I went to watch the swimming and that was also the race when Chad le Clos was one of three men to finish joint second in the 100-metre butterfly [won by Singapore's Joseph Schooling - with American Michael Phelps and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh the other two who shared second place in an extraordinary dead-heat].
"One of our good friends, he was with me at Grey College [in Bloemfontein, albeit a few years behind] and is a great friend of the BlitzBoks, Wayde van Niekerk. He joined us for a couple of public relations events and a couple of team building events in the last couple of years. We also watched his race, but unfortunately only the semifinal. We were fortunate enough to support him in that semifinal.
"Unfortunately we couldn't stay for the final, because our flight was already booked for that night, but I was so delighted to see how he ran that semifinal and to congratulate him.
"We always had that feeling that this guy will go all the way and when we arrived in South Africa, the news broke about Wayde van Niekerk.
"For me, personally, after winning bronze that was pretty special - a close friend winning a gold medal and breaking the world record, Snyman said.
Looking at the future of Sevens, Snyman believes that the Olympics has left its mark on the game and the sport looks set to attract even more attention in years to come.
"I think the future of Sevens is really bright, not only in South Africa, but globally. Once it became part of the Olympics, it just gave that extra bit of glamour to the game.
"I think Sevens is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. I believe the future is bright for the abbreviated version of the sport and it is there to stay at the Olympics," Snyman said.
The BlitzBoks get their 2016/2017 Sevens World Series underway with a tournament in Dubai at the beginning of December.
Snyman has set himself a goal of helping to bring some new talent through the ranks, before he retires in the next few seasons.
"I think a couple of senior guys - Kyle [Brown] and myself - might hang up our boots in the next couple of seasons, before the next Olympics [Tokyo, 2020].
"The goal is to leave the team in a better place and to bring all the youngsters up to speed, because in a year or so some youngsters need to own the responsibility of taking the team forward.
"I think if there's a chance for us maybe to put a lot of emphasis on giving it a real shot at winning the World Series again," explained Snyman.
Snyman also gives back to the South African community and helping to grow the game by taking part in clinics and tournaments, which are aimed at introducing the game of rugby to children from a very young age.
Looking ahead to life after rugby, Snyman said he enjoys farming with his father in his spare time.
He also has an interests in the corporate world.
However, he would also like to travel and spend time with his wife Esteé once he hangs up his boots.
"I do farm a bit with my dad and I like the financial world, so maybe going into the financial sector after rugby," he said, adding: "We will have to wait and see. Maybe I will head abroad for a year or two after playing in South Africa end of 2018.
"My wife [Esteé] is a medical doctor. We have an agreement that she will follow me around while I'm playing rugby and after that I will follow her around if she wants to work somewhere.
"Maybe we will go overseas for a year or two, just to experience a different lifestyle. We will have to wait and see what the future holds," Snyman said.
While Snyman described himself as a 'coffee addict', wife Esteé Snyman is a doctor by day and a homebody/bookworm/foodie by night.
By Josh Isaacson
* This interview was made possible by Asics - proud sponsor of the South African Sevens rugby team and the Springboks.
* Pictures courtesy of Gallo, @snymanphilip & instagram.com/philipsnyman/