South Africa’s boxers returned to the country from Morocco this week with two bronze medals and most importantly, two provisional qualifiers for the London Olympics later this year, writes Mark Etheridge.
The team finished a respectable 11th of 30 countries and Ayabonga Sonjica (56 kilogram division) and Siphiwe Lusizi (69kg) both reached the semi-finals of their respective divisions at the AIBA Continental qualification tournament in Casablanca.
The Eastern Cape duo both boxed for their country at last year’s All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique and were part of a squad of nine who headed north in an attempt to qualify.
Team manager Peter Armstrong says that the team has the makings of an excellent one.
“The team was a relatively inexperienced one with only two members left over from the 2010 Commonwealth Games squad. Most of them had only competed in two or three international tournaments and some of their performances showed their lack of experience. I think we could have qualified a few more had we had the necessary experience,” he told Road to London 2012.
Armstrong is full of hope for the road ahead, it just needs time and the team to be kept together going forward.
“We have some very good prospects that need a lot of exposure to top class competition and if we can keep this team for the next four years we will have an excellent team.”
Are sports powers that be out there taking notice as well as potential sponsors? Time will tell.
Summing up the main performers in Casablanca and Armstrong said:
“Lebogang Pilane (49kg) received a very bad decision against him. He clearly won his fight against his Moroccan opponent [Abdelali Daraa] only to lose 14:11. The Moroccan boxer went on to win a silver medal. Pilane was very motivated for this tournament and it is sad that he did not qualify.
“Ayabonga Sonjica (56kg) was brilliant in his first fight and very good in his second fight but a bit lacklustre in his third fight in the semi-finals against Isaac Dogboe. His bronze medal gave us our first boxer to qualify for the Olympic Games.
“Siphiwe Lusizi┬á(69kg) was very solid in winning a bronze medal and beating the current All African Games champion [Joseph Mulema of Cameroon]┬á in the quarter-finals.┬áHis performances this tournament were better than I have seen on previous occasions and he truly deserves to qualify.
“Sinethemba Bam (60kg) looked good in winning his first fight and lost a very close points decision in his second fight┬áto Shafiq Chito of Benin.