The qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan starts in earnest for the Tuks judokas from Friday when they take part in the Budapest Grand Prix Tournament, in Hungary.
It’s one of the tournaments in which judokas can earn valuable international ranking points in the buildup to the Games.
DJ le Grange (South African under-66kg champion), Unelle Snyman (South African under-78kg champion) and Michaela Whitebooi (South African under-48kg as well as under-52kg champion) will be competing. A total of 626 judokas (371 men and 255 women) from 90 countries are competing.
Le Grange admits he is in for a tough challenge as there are nearly 70 judokas who are competing in his category. ‘I think to be able to qualify for the final, I might have to contest up to five fights. It’s going to be tough, but I would not have it any other way.’
According to Le Grange, he would not mind earning a few ranking points but it’s not going to be his primary focus. ‘There’s still enough time left to get the ranking points I need to qualify for the Olympic Games. For now, it’s more important to gain as much experience as I can. It’s not often that I get to compete at a tournament with judokas from so many countries. So getting to learn how to handle myself against the various fighting styles will be more important.’
Snyman is also excited to get the opportunity to compete as there are 35 entries in her weight category, which means if she can keep her cool, she might get to fight three or more times. Her biggest frustration during the South African Open Tournament in Port Elizabeth was that she only had two fights.
‘Naturally I’m going to fight to win, but I also want to learn from the international judokas as to how they go about doing their things. What’s exciting is that we get to attend an international judo training camp afterwards. It means that for a few more days, I get to test myself against excellent fighters. I’m sure the experience is going to stand me in good stead in the buildup to the Games.’
Whitebooi said the most important thing for her is going to be to execute what she does in training to perfection during her fights.
‘It’s easy to do things right during training but when you compete, your opponent isn’t just going to abide and do what you want them to do. You’ve got to out-think them on the mats. I also need to become more confident in my own abilities. The only way to do so is to get the opportunity to fight against the best.’
Photo: Whitebooi in training action, by Reg Caldecott