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SA fighters bring back three bronze medals from African Open

judoafrika

By Mark Etheridge

South African judoka have maintained the country’s medal-winning momentum of the Commonwealth Games.
After a gold, silver and bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games, South Africa took part in the African Open competition in Port Louis, Mauritius.
And they returned with three bronze medals, courtesy of Zack Piontek, Siyabulela Mabulu and DJ le Grange. They competed in the -90kg, -66kg and -60kg categories respectively. More than 130 players from 26 countries were in action.
Piontek (gold) and Mabulu (bronze) both medalled at the Glasgow Games while Le Grange went very close as well.
A competition such as the Africa Open is vital as South Africa’s judoka go about ensuring their world rankings brings them an automatic qualification for the Rio Olympics in two years time.
‘I got 40 points for my bronze,’ Piontek told Road to Rio 2016. ‘For us in judo it’s incredibly important to keep on adding points because the first 22 in each weight group are invited to the Olympics.
‘I’m busy finding good and constant form now and am busy bringing in the medals now. But these trips cost a lot of money and at this stage I don’t have financial backing from SASCOC yet.
Piontek won his weight category at last year’s African Open but it was a different story on this occasion.
‘My first fight was against Thomas Capro of the US. He’s actually from France but takes part for the US. I’ve fought him twice before and he’s beaten me in both so to have my first fight against him was a bit stressful. We fought for the entire five minute and then it was sudden-death. After another 90sec or so I threw him with a yuko [the lowest throw in judo] and go the win. This was definitely a big win for me.’
But it didn’t get any easier as he then took on Britain’s Andrew Burns and the battle was just as epic. ‘We’re both left-handers so it makes it difficult and it was really back and forth. At one stage he had two Shido’s (penalties) against him and I had one. But then with a minute to go he got me with a yuko and there wasn’t enough time for me to get back.’
Piontek’s last fight was the battle for bronze against the physically strong Australian Sebastien Temesi. ‘It was really tough in the first two minutes but as the time went on I could feel he was getting tired and had less strength in his throws. I took my chance and and launched a counter-attack and managed a big pick-up throw and got him down hard for an ippon [the highest point-scoring manoeuvre in judo and an instant winner).’
Piontek says the quality of players at the tournament was way up on last year. ‘If had my form of last year I would definitely not have won a medal here. I’m encouraged by my growth and bronze was a big achievement for me at this tournament. This was an Africa tournament yet I didn’t fight any African countries… that’s how much the quality has improved.’
For now Piontek’s biggest wish is to be included on SASCOC’s OPEX programme that supports the top sportsmen and women in the run-in to the Rio Olympics.
For Le Grange’s part, there were 12 competitors in his category.
‘I started with a bye in the first round as I was a ranked player in the tournament. In the second round I was up against Lucas Rowe from Great Britain. It was a tough, physical contest with a lot of pace and scores. The contest went the distance, with me coming out as the victor, having scored more points. The decisive score was from a counter-attack. After this win I progressed into the semi-finals.
‘My semi-final was against Lenin Preciado of Ecuador, a highly skilled and experienced player high up on the world rankings and the eventual winner of the tournament. The contest was once again very fast-paced with a lot of grip fighting and very unorthodox techniques. This contest also went the whole way with him beating me with the smallest of scores. Even though I lost this fight I thoroughly enjoyed it as it was a fantastic opportunity for me to fight against a good player with a very unorthodox style of fighting.
‘I know that on any other given day I could’ve beaten him which showed me that I am not far off the level of the higher ranked players in my division. The experience I gained from the fight is crucial.’
Le Grange then went into the bronze medal bout where he was up against fellow South African Luthando Biko. ‘It was a very physical contest due to the fact that we have been fighting each other for a couple of years and know each other very well and also have a great deal of respect for each other. The fight went past the full time with neither of us scoring a point which meant that we went into ‘Golden Score’ where the first score wins. Eventually, in the eight minute of the contest I managed to get him in a pin and he tapped as there was no way that he could escape.’
Like Piontek, Le Grange came home with a lot from Mauritius. ‘I learned a great deal from this tournament not just in the fights but all aspects. Mentally I was very well prepared and had a great deal of confidence going into and coming out of every fight. I fought against styles which I don’t regularly encounter and found ways of adapting. I also felt that the new techniques that I’m working on are starting to improve drastically and will come into crucial play in the very near future.
‘The weather was also another challenge with extreme heat and high humidity proving to be a volatile combination in exhausting you as every player was very tired if a contest went the full time. This tournament experience will go a long way in my pursuit of Olympic qualification. Now the hard work gets even harder. I must now improve even more and must never be satisfied with my progress. I must always stay hungry!’
Eastern Cape’s Mabulu had a variety of opponents on the way to his bronze medal.
In the first round he accounted for local fighter Robin Collet easily enough in under three minutes and then lost to Britain’s Nathon Burns.
That saw him up against Aussie Nathan Katz who he beat to secure a bronze medal fight against Britain’s Lewis Keeble and he managed to come out tops in that event as well. Three of Mabulu’s fights went the full distance.

Pictured are Piontek (left) and Le Grange (right) with their medals. In the centre is Mozambique’s Marlon Acacio who won bronze in the -81kg division.


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