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Eight will be pulling for pride

By Mark Etheridge

Eight South African women will take strain for the good of their country at the 2009 World Games which get underway in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan next week.

The women will represent SA in the tug-of-war competition, one of 26 official sports at the Games which will take place between July 16-26.

Official records place Greece as the cradle of tug-of-war from as way back as 500BC when it was a competitive sport as well as an exercise in the physical training for other sports. The sport also featured at the courts of Chinese Emperors as well as in Mongolia and Turkey and was popular contest in French chateaux tournaments.

It was also an Olympic sport between 1900 and 1920.

The sport has featured in all seven staging of the World Games, and at the last games in Duisberg, Germany, the women’s competition was won by Chinese Taipei, ahead of Japan and the Netherlands.

The team will be coached by Pretoria’s Wanda Jonck, 36, who forthrightly admits that the team are, figuratively at least, on the back foot.

Says Jonck, a senior state accountant in the SA Police Service when she’s not competing or managing: “We didn’t actually qualify for the World Games but then China withdrew so we have only had six weeks notice which is not a long time and is a big adjustment for the girls to make.”

“We’ll be taking part in the 520kg category which means that the combined weight of the entire team must be no higher than 520kg. The World Games feature an indoor competition which in itself is quite different from the outdoor category.”

“As far as I know there are five other countries competing against us: Chinese Taipei, Japan, Ukraine, Netherlands and the United Kingdom and I’d say the first two-mentioned teams will be the favourites.”

The squad will be made up of Jacoba Phillips, Elizna le Roux, Rene Pentz, Susara Joubert, Claudia Rix, Leonell Steyn, Catherine Mdhlovu, Zureka Fourie and Ayanda Ikaneng.

All but two, Mdhlovu and Fourie, come from the Western Cape region. Mdhlovu and Fourie are both from Pretoria.

At 40, Pentz and Joubert are the eldest in the team and scholar Ikaneng the youngest, at just 17.

The athletes’ day jobs represent a true spectrum, from medical technology (Phillips), to Rix (laboratory operator at a leading Stellenbosch wine estate and education, Fourie who is an assistant school teacher.