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SA women judoka keen for more competition
- Updated: February 19, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
South African judo’s leading ladies were in action at the recent trials and rankings tournament in Stellenbosch, writes Mark Etheridge.
And a whole handful of players, who also plied their trade at the African Union Region 5 Games in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe last year, got to grips with their local rivals during the two days of competition.
Michaela Whitebooi, Desiree Blake, Kirsten Chananie and Courtney Reid were all winners, both in Bulawayo and in Stellenbosch. The quartet contested the 48, 57, 63 and 70 kilogram weight groups respectively.
And one worrying factor that is a matter of concern for these warriors of the mat is a distinct lack of competition in some categories, meaning that the top women are not able to truly test themselves against as many opponents as would ideally be the case.
This was particularly the case for Whitebooi, the littlest of the lot in the above-mentioned quartet.
‘On the Friday, trials day for making the national team I had no opponents and that’s because in South Africa not many girls my age are lightweight so its hard to have local competition. I really do wish I had more opponents in SA so that I wouldn’t always have to go to a competition and basically fight Casper the ghost,’ she joked.
‘On the Saturday I had one fight in each age division (U20 and seniors) and both these fights were with the same girl. In international competitions you’ll be shocked to see how many girls can fight and maintain their weight to fight U48kg.’
Speaking of the Saturday action she told Road to Rio 2016: ‘There’ll always be butterflies when you fight and I was nervous, because many people watch us to see what we, as High Performance Centre athletes, can bring to the table and what they expect of us.
‘My first fight was a good one – your first fight in any competition is the most important one, and the second fight went quicker than the first, because I knew what she was doing and felt the way she fights. But she’s a fighter and I’m thankful for her for actually giving me the opportunity to fight and just not sit and watch people.’
And one can feel the current of frustration running through some of the girls. ‘What upsets me most is training your backside off but then the day of competition you have no one to compete against. Anyway, making the team is only the beginning, hopefully this year has greater adventures in store for me.’
The financial science student also paid tribute to the people who have got her to where she is today: ‘Without the help of the HPC I wouldn’t be here today and especially my sponsors from Aspen and Future Life and coach Nikola Filipov and my fellow judokas. Nikola is like a dad and a coach to me at the same time and of course God is always with me and protects me from any injuries!
On to Blake, and the winner of Team South Africa’s first gold medal at the Region 5 Games was happy but not entirely satisfied: ‘Although I took gold, my fights didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. When I fight I want to win knowing that every fight was my best fight.
‘So to be honest, my fights weren’t my best.. but there’s something to work on for this year – fixing my mistakes and not making them again. I’m not sure which tournaments I’m doing this year yet but I do know that I’ll give nothing less than everything I have in me,’ concluded Blake who, like Whitebooi, is based in Pretoria.
KwaZulu-Natal’s Chananie was one judoka who was feeling the pinch in more ways than one at this tournament.
‘Being my first year in Group 5 (the U21 division) I felt a lot of pressure going into the trials. A three-year age difference can be a big change in how my opponents fight, strength and technique wise as well as more years of competition experience. Also, besides for outside influence I think I have myself as my greatest critic.
‘These trials were also important in getting my name noticed by Judo South Africa (JSA) and SASCOC as well as hopefully other future sponsors.
‘Going into my first fight against Mela Smith, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as she was a wildcard entry, and an opponent whom I’d never seen or watched before. After some discussion with my coach, Johan Duckworth, we decided that the best approach would be to feel out my opponent, try see what she likes to do, how she attacks and reacts.
‘And that’s just what happened. By the end of the first fight I had narrowly won by two Shido’s (penalties). I found playing to the new rules seemed to work in my advantage.
‘Next was my hardest fight, which also happened to be the final for the U63kg division to see who made the SA team. In this final I faced up against Maggie Louw, who also happened to be my finals fight at last year’s South African Open Championships for U21 women.
‘The fight started off very strong. Maggie, being much taller than me, took control right from the get-go and I found myself having to defend quite a bit more than I would have liked. As the fight progressed I managed to score a Wazari (seven-point score) and then ended the fight with a hold-down and so securing my spot in the national team.’
Chananie was quick to point out the benefits of putting in some disciplined lifestyle choices over the festive season.
‘At the end of the day it was my fitness levels that helped me to sustain through the full length of the first fight as well as the lengthy second fight. it just goes to show that the hard work you put in does pay off in the end. So I was happy with my results and thankful for the strict eating and rigorous training throughout the December holidays – it was most definitely all worth it.
Next it was on to to the next day’s National Ranking Event, where, unlike trials, it’s an open event. She entered the junior, Group 5 (|U21) and seniors group 6 (U30). ‘After many fights with girls varying in height, strength, flexibility and, more importantly, level of skills, I succeeded in bringing home two gold medals, something that my coach, family and I were proud of.’
Chananie returned home to Westville where she went over footage of her fights to gauge strengths and weaknesses. ‘This together with strength, endurance and tactical training, should have me ready to bring home a medal at June’s Junior African Championships in Burundi.
Read wraps up the quartet of fighters. Like Whitebooi, she’s also trained by Filipov.
‘I’d been watching my weight for weeks so it was a great relief when I could finally weigh in. At trials you weigh in and fight on the same day. I had some time to get a good meal in and rest before competition.
‘I then had a good warm-up with my team-mates and then tried to relax and focus.’
Again, there was again the problem of a lack of opponents. ‘I only had one girl in my weight, who I train with. I had been pushing myself a lot during the past month of training and felt ready to fight! I won my fight and felt relief because I had made the national team and now have motivation for the year to carry on training hard to achieve in the international competitions.’
In the year coming up I have the Zone 6 competition at the end of March where I will be fighting group 5 and 6 and then the Junior African Champs in Burundi.
‘If I get a medal at Africa’s then I’ll have a chance to take part in the World Junior Championships. I also hope to do an international training camp sometime this year with more competition.’
On Saturday she took part in the national rankings where she fought in Group 5 and 6.
‘Winning Group 6 was the highlight of my weekend because I had fought girls who are much older and more experienced and I won both groups which leaves me ranked the country’s No1 in both groups. Preparing for my next competition I plan to focus on improving strength training in the gym and speed training in judo with coach Nikola.’