Jacques' Games spot | SASCOC - SASCOC

Jacques’ Games spot

By Mark Etheridge

His grappling skills have taken him to more than 20 countries around the globe but London later this year will be by far the most desirable destination.

That’s because our top judoka, Jacques van Zyl, has qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in the London capital and will fight the good fight for Team South Africa.

The 22-year-old, who has travelled the world in search of the Olympic dream, sealed his qualification with a silver medal in the final Olympic qualification event, the Africa Championships in Agadir, Morocco.

South Africa’s Olympic governing body, SASCOC still needs to rubberstamp his qualifying feats that started on 1 May 2010 when the qualification window first opened up.

Van Zyl told Road to London 2012: “It has been a lifetime dream of mine to qualify for the Olympics. Since I was a young boy I have told Danie Bruwer, who introduced me to the sport, that I want to go to the Olympics so this is truly a dream come true for me.

“Fourteen years of hard work and training has finally paid off and words cannot describe the feeling of knowing I will be able to represent my country at the Olympic Games. I celebrated this amazing achievement with my family and girlfriend and can’t thank them enough for everything they have done and sacrificed for me over the past few years. I’m very honoured that they will be joining me in London.

He started judo aged eight while at Laerskool Roodekrans on the West Rand. “I immediately fell in love with the sport after Danie and Katja [Bruwer] introduced me to it, teaching me the judo way.”

Things moved fast from there and he won the first national championships he took part in. Since then he has won another six national titles. In 2005 he moved to Bloemfontein to attend Grey College where Vincent and Esme-Joan Redpath also played a key role in his sports career. Two years later he got a scholarship from Mr Yasuhiro Yamashita [Japanese judo legend and 1984 Olympic gold medallist] to go and train at Tokai University in Japan ÔÇô a wise move. “I spent eight months in Japan, training with the best judokas.”

But it was also one of the┬á most challenging periods. “I had to leave my parents, girlfriend, family and friends behindÔǪ but I wouldn’t have swopped this experience for anything because it was there that I realised how big this sport is and how much it took to be a champion.”

Still a junior, he won his first medal at Africa Championships in Agadir, Morocco (2009) where the took a bronze meal in the Under-66 kilogram division. He now fights in the Under-73kg division.

A major boost on his march to qualification was winning gold in the African Championships last year. It was only the second time that a South African has won gold at the continental championships and the first time in 19 years.

After winning silver at last year’s All Africa Games in Mozambique (not an Olympic qualifying event) he moved on east to gain more points. “In Korea I was the first South African to win a medal at a World Cup event where I won a bronze medal and that made an immense contribution toward my qualification.”

Qualifying for the Games dictate that the top 22 on the IJF (International Judo Federation) World Ranking List on 1 May 2012 qualify directly and then the top two per continent, per weight outside the top 22. He was 25th on the list for London, just outside the top 22 but did enough to qualify through the continental route.

It hasn’t been easy on both the physical and financial front. He’s had to endure operations to both of his shoulders and the added burden of Judo South Africa stopping their High Performance Centre involvement in Pretoria due to financial problems. ” Luckily for me Tuks University and KJK Judo club (the Bruwers’ club) helped me out for that Korea and Japan trip.”

An indication of just how hard it is for our judoka to fight on the biggest mat of them all can be seen by the lack of competition chances. There are 27 Olympic Qualifiers per year and a total of 54 competitions in his division. “The guys I was competing against competed at more or less 30 of these competitions. Due to lack of financial support I was fortunate enough to attend six of these around the world and the two Africa Championships.”

As for London itself, how does he rate his chances?: The top judokas in my weight are from Korea, Japan and France. Judo is big in these countries. My chances at the Games are as good as any of the other guys in my weight division, maybe even better, because they tend to underestimate the smaller judo countries. The thing with Judo is anything can happen on the day, it all depends on how you feel.┬á I feel stronger and better than ever before and come 30 July I am sure I will give the best performances of my life and that could be enough to win gold.”


  1. Urbain Keya

    May 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Well done, Jacque. All the best for july.

  2. Jaco van Staden

    May 24, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Well done Jacques we at Central Gauteng knows that no one deserve to go to the Olympics more than you on behalf of our Chairperson Paul Nothnagel and the Central Gauteng Judo Commitee we want to wish you the best of luck we know you are going to turn London upside down the gentle way

    Judo Regards
    Jaco van Staden

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