By Mark Etheridge
Three of South Africa’s leading judoka are sweating it out at an intense training camp in Hungary, ahead of the upcoming senior and cadet World Judo Championships.
The three are Dale Whittaker, who was at last year’s Rio Olympics helping Team SA’s Zack Piontek in his preparations, 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Siyabulela Mabulu, and 2016 AUS Region 5 Games gold medallist Jasmine Martin.
Team SA caught up with the trio as Whitaker and Mabulu prepared for the senior World Championships in Hungary from 28 August to 3 September, and Martin for the World Cadet Championships in Santiago, Chile, between 9-13 August.
‘We’re here training at an Olympic Centre that is run and funded by the International Judo Federation,’ said Whittaker.
‘There’s also another guy, Kevin Keuvelaar, who might be joining us at the World Champs. Although he is not training here with us, it’s all going to depend on him recovering from an injury. He competes in the +100kg category.
‘We had to cover our own travelling costs to get here, but everything this side is covered by the IJF. It is a very good opportunity to get a wider variety of training partners, which is very advantageous for us. The volume of judo training we are getting here is also very good.
‘Back home with Nikola [Filipov, coach at Tuks] I get 12 hours of actual judo training a week due to the non-professional nature of the sport in South Africa and lack of suitable training partners plus all our conditioning as well, while here so far we are doing 20-23 hours of judo a week, which for a technical sport like ours I feel is very important.’
Added the Eastern Cape’s Mabulu: ‘It’s good to be here at the Olympic Centre to train with some of top players in the world. It’a all part of the process of preparation, working together with my ex-coach George Dannie.
‘It’s actually my second visit to this centre – we are working hard and everyday is training with high intensity.
‘Also, the Cuban team have just arrived to join us, so we are a big group with different countries and categories. The good thing is that there are lots of competitions around Europe, so it’s not that expensive to go to competitions and we really need those competitions to be ready for the 2020 Olympics.’
As for teenager Martin (the Brazilian-born player turns 17 later this year), the more the training the better, as lack of quality training is a problem commonly experienced with the limited number of top judoka in South Africa.
‘My preparation for World Championship is going very well. It’s hard training, but of course very good. I was a bit demotivated after Africa’s and this has definitely helped me a lot. We train every day – Monday to Friday two training sessions a day and then on Saturday and Sunday only once.’
Martin, now living back in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal with her parents, has a string of successes behind her name, both home and abroad. A Brazilian champion at the age of 12, she’s no stranger to international training camps around the globe.
‘While we’re here in Hungary we train between 8:30-11:00am and then again from 16:00-18:30pm in the evening and then 2 hours over the weekends. I’m proud of my competition achievements, but not one to brag about them,’ says Martin, who campaigns in the -63kg weight division.
In the picture (left to right): Whittaker, Martin and Mabulu in Hungary