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SA’s Piontek must put friendship aside at World Championships

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Friendship can sometimes be a handicap if you are a top-class judoka.
When South Africa’s Zack Piontek steps onto the judo mat for his first fight in the under-90kg category of the World Judo Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan on Friday, it will be in the Commonwealth champion’s best interests to forget that he normally considers Sweden’s Joakim Dvarby to be a friend.
Piontek said he met Dvarby while they were both on a quest to learn the finer art of judo from the world’s best. ‘We became friends during our travels. We trained together in Japan and more recently in Russia and were involved in quite a few “friendly” fights,” the Tuks/HPC judoka said although he didn’t elaborate on who the winner of these ‘friendly’ encounters was.
‘At the Olympic training camps we were focussd on honing our skills rather than trying to best each other. There are advantages as well as drawbacks to fighting a friend. I know Joakim’s strong points and weaknesses and can often pre-empt what his reaction would be to a specific throw of mine. Unfortunately, it works both ways because he also knows the way I fight. I guess this puts us in a checkmate situation.’
Piontek could be in for a tough fight because Dvarby’s international ranking is currently 17th. The South African is ranked as the 33rd best judoka in the under-90kg category.
The Swede has had a good season so far, winning bronze medals at the Grand Prix meetings in Ulaanbaater, Mongolia and in Zagreb, Croatia. He also won a bronze medal at the Grand Slam meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan.
According to statistics on the Judo Inside website, Dvarby won 13 of the 23 fights in which he was involved so far this season.
Piontek’s best results are his fifth place finish at the Grand Slam Tournament in Tyumen, Russia and winning a silver medal at the African Championships in Libreville.
Piontek’s performance in Tyumen impressed because of the way he was able to keep his cool in spite of being hampered by a serious nose bleed.
Even if Piontek should get the better of his friend, the road ahead will not be easy for him. In his next fight he will probably have to face Mashu Baker the Japanese judoka ranked fifth in the under-90kg class.


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