THE sky is the limit for South African athletes if they make it onto the podium at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Not only is the pot unlimited if athletes win more than one medal, but, for the first time, individual coaches will also benefit from the incentive scheme announced by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) in Johannesburg yesterday.

"Sascoc are definitely putting their weight behind the athletes," said SA's 50km walk record holder Marc Mundell. "I feel it is so important that coaches also get adequate recognition for their hard work behind the scenes, which often goes unnoticed.

"The athletes are now aware that there is something at the end for them and that their struggle, their heartache and all the blood, sweat and toil, is ultimately worth it.

"They can put something aside for the future and have something to fall back on because most athletes have put their careers on hold.

"The more SA incentivises its athletes, the better the performances will be ultimately."

Incentives for the Olympic and Paralympic medallists differed vastly but Sascoc president Gideon Sam said it was necessary to distinguish between the two contests.

"In the Paralympic Games approximately 4 000 athletes are competing for approximately 500 medals, while in the Olympics, there are around 10 500 athletes competing for only 300 medals," he said.

Sam used the example of the 100m final at the able-bodied games, where only one athlete could win a gold medal, but in the Paralympic event, various classification systems were applied and 13 medals were up for grabs.

Should a South African Olympic athlete win a gold medal, he or she will take home R400000 and their coach R100 000. Silver and bronze medals are worth R200000 and R80000 respectively, while their coaches will receive R50000 and R20000 respectively.

Paralympic athletes will receive R100000 for gold, R75000 for silver and R40000 for bronze.

The coaches will be rewarded to the tune of R20000, R15 000 and R10 000 respectively.

This is a significant increase from what was offered at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the total purse was R500 000, which was to have been divided between all the country's medal winners.

Long jumper Khotso Mokoena, who secured silver, walked away with the entire pot as SA's only medallist at the able-bodied games.

Sapa