Henri Schoeman: Background, career highlights, quotes

Olympic bronze medallist and Commonwealth champion Henri Schoeman knows how to win big when it counts. Let's meet South Africa's most successful short-course triathlete…

Triathlete Henri Schoeman

One of the World Triathlon Series’ true competitors, South African Henri Schoeman has enjoyed some moments of true glory among debilitating injury lay-offs.


His two most major triumphs are the Olympic bronze he won at Rio 2016 and the gold that came two years later at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Who is Henri Schoeman?

In short, Henri Schoeman is one of South Africa’s most successful triathletes. An extremely strong swimmer despite his comparatively diminutive size, his advantage in the water often ensures that he’s part of any lead groups that subsequently form, and thus frequently in with a shout of a podium place.

Schoeman was U19 South African national champion two years in a row, before experiencing some injury-plagued years early in his career; from 2009 onwards, he missed two seasons because of stress fractures in his shins before then suffering further injuries in a mountain bike crash.

He recovered sufficiently to begin to make in-roads on the elite circuit, no more so than at the Rio Olympics in 2016 where he took a surprise bronze, despite having never made an appearance on a WTS podium.

This was swiftly followed by a maiden WTS victory in the Grand Final in Cozumel. A handful of WTS podium finishes have followed since, as has the tremendous gold he won at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Over the years, injuries have blighted his progress, causing his career to stutter somewhat. Indeed, long-term issues with his ankles dictated he retire during the race at the Tokyo Olympics, unable to replicate his performance in Brazil five years earlier.

His next race was due to be the defence of his Commonwealth title in Birmingham, in July 2022, but he withdrew from the individual race the day before. He did, however race in the Mixed Relay event, where RSA finished 8th.

Just over a month later and he had a bike crash, leaving him with fractures in his elbow and arm.

There may well be time left for one more crack at further Olympic glory.

How old is Henri Schoeman?

Henri Schoeman was born on 3 October 1991, making him 31 years old.

Henri Schoeman’s career highlights

Alistair Brownlee (L) sits on the ground after winning, as his brother Jonathan Brownlee (R) greets South Africa’s Henri Schoeman in the men’s triathlon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 18, 2016. Credit: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

May 2013: The youngster becomes big in Japan

A sixth place in Yokohama is the first top-ten World Triathlon Series top ten for the young man from Durban. He is still only 21.

May 2013: Schoeman becomes king of the continent

In the Atlantic city of Agadir in Morocco, Schoeman takes the first of four successive triumphs at the African Championships.

August 2015: A maiden top-five placing in Sweden

Henri Schoeman leading the chase group at World Triathlon Stockholm 2015. Credit: Janos Schmidt/ITU

Schoeman takes fourth place in Stockholm, his first top-five finish in a WTS race. Among those he beats is future three-time world champion Mario Mola.

August 2016: A wholly unexpected bronze in Rio

To his own astonishment, Schoeman is third man home at the Copacabana finish line at Rio 2016, holding off a late surge from his compatriot Richard Murray.

Yet to finish in the top three in a WTS race, he nonetheless climbs the podium as the first South African to win a triathlon Olympic medal.

September 2016: A first WTS win in the heat of Cozumel

Henri Schoeman wins the ITU Grand Final on 18 September, 2016 in Cozumel, Mexico. Credit: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Having trailed in behind the Brownlee boys in Rio, Schoeman exacts revenge in the WTS Grand Final in Cozumel when, to his utter delight, he takes his maiden victory in the series.

There is a caveat, though. Schoeman’s win came after leader Jonny Brownlee began to suffer the debilitating effects of heat exhaustion and had to be helped over the line by big brother Ali.

March 2018: Victory in the series opener in the UAE

After an indifferent 2017 season, Schoeman hits the ground running in Abu Dhabi, where he triumphs over the shorter distance, ahead of the likes of Mario Mola, Vincent Luis and Jonny Brownlee.

April 2018: It’s gold on the Gold Coast

The form Schoeman shows in Abu Dhabi is then replicated at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Again over the shorter distance, the South African holds on for gold, ahead of home hero Jacob Birtwhistle. Surprisingly, the Brownlees finish seventh (Jonny) and 10th (Ali).

May 2019: Schoeman’s most recent WTS podium place

Vincent Luis takes the tape ahead of Henri Schoeman at the ITU World Triathlon Yokohama on 18 May, 2019. Credit: Delly Carr/Getty Images

As runner-up to Vincent Luis in Yokohama, Schoeman records only his third top-three finish in a WTS series race.

In August, he finishes ninth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualification race.

March 2021: National champion

Henri reins supreme at the South Africa National Championships to retain his title from 2019. Two months later he finishes fifth at the World Triathlon Championship Series Yokohama.

July 2021: A devastating DNF in Tokyo

Things are looking okay for a decent showing at the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, but an ankle injury flares up two weeks prior and he’s forced to DNF on the run.

November 2022: Returns to WTCS racing after 18 months

Given the last few years, Henri is thrilled to place 11th at the Grand Final in Abu Dhabi.

March 2023: Returns to blistering form

After finishing second at the first Arena Games Triathlon of 2023 in Montreal in February, Henri finally returns to his winning ways at the second round in Switzerland following three years blighted by injury and illness.

An emotional Schoeman said post-race: “It’s my first win since all of the injuries and setbacks I’ve faced, and I’m so thrilled with my performance. I’m loving my life right now.”

Henri Schoeman quotes

On his bronze medal at Rio 2016: “I have had a fever the whole week. The doctor only gave me the all-clear to be on the start line yesterday.”

On taking gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games: “I have no words. It was a tough race, the swim was rough, but it was so amazing to have run for my country. That last 50 metres felt amazing.”

On not finishing at the Tokyo Games because of an ongoing ankle injury: “Two weeks before the Olympics, I wasn’t able to run at all. I know from experience and from others’ experiences that sometimes the most amazing things happen in a race that you might not expect. I went there hoping the race and the adrenaline would take away the pain.”

What’s next for Henri Schoeman?

After an injury-and-illness-stalled few seasons, Schoeman is still young enough to make an impression on the WTS circuit, as well as eyeing another Olympic medal in Paris in 2024.