A silver medal from long jumper Khotso Mokoena was the sole reward after sending 265 athletes to China and strict qualifying conditions have been set ahead of the 2012 Games to try and avoid similar embarrassment.
Olympics organisation president Gideon Sam said three years ago that he wanted 12 medals in London and has not budged from his stance despite widespread scepticism among a public and media weary of false sporting promises.
"I see 12 medals in the team. There is no doubt about it that there are a lot of potential medalists. When I was going through the team I said to myself that there is a lot of potential here," Sam told reporters.
Chief executive Tubby Reddy echoed the views of his SASCOC (South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee) colleague when pressed on medal possibilities.
"We set high qualifying standards from the outset, but I am happy to say that our athletes have risen to the challenge. When I look at this team I am filled with pride and hope. This is a very good team.
"I have no doubt that there is a lot of medal potential. I say potential because although we are right behind our team members, the final push for the podium rests with them."
However, when Sam was interrogated by journalists desperate to discover the identity of the 12 medal prospects, he battled to provide names once past the half-dozen mark.
LJ van Zyl (400 metres hurdles), Caster Semenya (women's 800m) and Sunette Viljoen (women's javelin) are always mentioned, and are undoubtedly creditable top-three hopefuls in London.
Van Zyl could walk to the podium a second time as a member of the 4x400m relay team that may include Oscar Pistorius, whose dream of becoming the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics hangs in the balance.
Pistorius saw his last chance of competing in the 400m dashed last week as he finished 0.22 seconds outside the qualifying time when coming second during the African championships in Benin.
There are suggestions that Mokoena could deliver another medal-winning performance, but Sam concedes that much will depend on the "frame of mind" of the long jumper.
Athletics and swimming have delivered 17 of the 19 medals won by South Africans since returning from an apartheid-induced international wilderness to compete at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Cameron van der Burgh (100m breaststroke) and Chad le Clos (200m butterfly) are the stand-out swimming prospects for London with both ranked within the top three this year in their respective disciplines.
There is hope of a third medal in the pool from either the 4x100m freestyle relay team or the 4x100m medley relay quartet that would include Van der Burgh, Le Clos, backstroker Charl Crous plus a freestyle specialist.
But after that the medal trail starts to run cold with mountain biker Burry Stander the next best bet and Sam adds, more in hope than expectation, that a boxer, rower or marathon runner may come to the podium party.
Reddy tossed in triathlete Richard Murray, road cyclist Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and sailors Roger Hudson and Asenathi Jim as potential medalists given excellent recent form.
"This is it," said Sam excitedly in Pretoria as he unveiled the names of those who will form the bulk of a team which will compete in 17 of the 26 Olympic sporting codes and should be finalised this week.
"There is no one we have overlooked. All the federations have presented us with their best athletes and made sure they have qualified at the correct levels we required. This is it."
Sam has set the bar high -- making athletes match or better qualifying marks at least once at home and once abroad to secure a team place -- and he will be judged on the medal return.