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SA’s top judoka battle it out for rankings ahead of Rio
- Updated: February 13, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
It was another occasion of the most intense grappling, groaning and grunting as the country’s top judoka were in action at the recent national trials and ranking competition in Stellenbosch.
And a whole host of Team South Africa representatives were in action over the two days of competition.
Main purpose of the trials was to establish the number one and two players for the national team in the various age and weight categories.
After the action the men’s national side looks like a glorified Gauteng line-up with Olympian Jacques van Zyl, Commonwealth Games players DJ le Grange and Zack Piontek, Dale Whittaker (all from Tukkies) and Calvin Fourie and Kevin Kevelaar from the Kano Cub in Johannesburg. Only Port Elizabeth based Siyabulela Mabulu is not from Gauteng.
Said Van Zyl: ‘I didn’t have to fight trials because my weight (-73kg) was closed meaning I didn’t have to fight. They closed me, Siyabulela and Zack’s weight divisions.
‘But I still fought the national rankings on Saturday. I beat a guy from Boland (Steven O’Connor) and then beat Siyabulela twice. Now I’m heading off to Germany next week to fight… if I can get my visa sorted out.’
Le Grange, an unlucky loser at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Scotland, went to Stellenbosch with a specific goal in mind. ‘With the 2016 Olympic Games looming just around the corner it was important for me to establish myself as the No1 fighter in the -60kg senior division so as to start gaining the proper support and to shift my focus primarily towards international competition and qualification for Rio.
‘My division was really competitive with the top three fighters all there trying to establish themselves as the number one. My first contest was against Preston Davids from the Southern Free State. The fight started off very strong with both of us attacking at a high rate and with good accuracy. Half-way into the contest I managed to counter-attack him off one of his attacks and landed him straight into a pin to get the full score and win the contest.
‘My second and last fight of the trials was against Luthando Biko from the Eastern Province, another strong fighter. Knowing that if I won this contest I would establish myself as the number one, there was a lot of pressure. Me and my coach (Olympic coach Nikolai Filipov) decided to take a tactically safe approach to the contest in order to secure the victory and win the trials. I was in very good physical condition and we decided to force down penalty points on my opponent and win the contest after the contest time elapsed. We executed the tactic very well and I won the contest one penalty against three, securing the trials as well.
‘The following day we had the National Ranking Event where all ages compete in there various categories to determine their ranking in the country. I knew that if I really wanted to be No1 I must retain my ranking at the top of the -60kg division as well. After a slow start in my first two contest I met Luthando in the semi-finals. I managed to get him into an early pin to secure some good points before finally throwing him to gather enough points to end the contest and move on to the finals.
‘In the finals I was up against Preston once again. The contest was very hard and physical as we were both tired from the previous and current day’s fights. Forty-five seconds before the end I once again countered one of his attacks and managed to get a big score off of it. From there I just played out the contest to win the fight and secure the gold medal.’
And Le Grange gives much of the credit to his form do some intense disciplining over the New Year period.
‘I worked extremely hard during the festive season, only resting on Sundays, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, in order to be ready for this weekend. It’s always satisfying to see that the hard work pays off and I am really looking forward to this very important year and whatever it may bring.’
Next up for a group of the top judoka is a three-week training camp in Japan, an invaluable part of this code’s preparation for both continental events as well as next year’s Olympics.
‘It’s just for training but plays a very important role in our preparation for the African Open which will be held in Morocco on 14-15 March,’ says Le Grange. ‘I always enjoy preparing there as we do a lot of fighting during training there and that conditions my body extremely well for competitions, especially because the quality of fighters over there are so high. It is Judo’s country of origin after all.
‘My main competitions for this year are the various African Opens held throughout the year, the African Championships, the African Games and hopefully if all goes well the World Championships which will be held in Kazakhstan later this year.’
Picture of DJ le Grange fighting Siyabulela Mabulu is courtesy of Reg Caldecott