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Shushu shines in Kenya

By Mark Etheridge

Team South Africa have returned from the African senior weightlifting championships in Nairobi, Kenya with a total of seven medals and a place at the London Olympics later this year.

Two of those medals were gold and five of them were bronze.

The two gold medals in the Nairobi event came in the men’s 69 kilogram division where former Capetonian (now Johannesburg-based) Otsile Greg Shushu got gold for his clean and jerk movement and in the total combined lifts on top of that. In the Snatch movement he got a bronze medal. The gold medal lift was attempted but unfortunately Shushu missed it backwards.

Of the men in the team, Jean Greeff (94kg division) took bronze in the clean and jerk category with a lift of 172kg for a new SA record.

Born in Kimberley but having moved to Manenberg when he was 14, Shushu was a happy man when Road to London 2012 spoke to him in Johannesburg. “My trip to Nairobi was the most exciting time of my life and I couldn’t wait to participate. I left on 30 March and still had an intensive training session at 5am before departure. My competition was on┬á 31 March and I have never felt so confident and ready compared to previous competitions I took part in.

“This was the first time I can say I actually enjoyed every attempt I had to take, from the warm-up to the actual competition. My focus could be on the lifts alone and I have to congratulate the national coach [Pandoo] and assistant coach (Willem Phillips) for a job well done as I would not be able to have done it without them. Also not forgetting my coach (Andrew Anthony) who has sacrificed his life writing programmes and coaching and assisting me at awkward times.

“From last August to March I’ve had to fork out R37,500 and all these expenses were paid through the business I run with my girlfriend. I also trained four to six hours a day ÔÇô┬á three hours in the morning and another thee in the afternoon or night. My daughter was born on 18 August and I have hardly had time to spend with her so I’m really thankful I have a woman who has been supportive and understanding.”

The remaining three bronzes went to young Zayanda Mjezu in the 53kg division. She came down to the 53 kg from 58 kg after a strict diet set and monitored by her coach Aveenash Pandoo. This was after carefully considering the other lifters on the African Continent. Her hard work paid off. Still a matric pupil, she snatched 63kg, lifted 84kg in the clean and jerk division and recorded a total of 147kg.

Being a continental qualifier for the Olympics, South Africa had to send full teams as per Olympic Qualification Guidelines set by the IWF to the event and 10 lifters, made up of six men and four women.

Cameroon were the top men’s team with South African ending fourth while our women ended fifth in their category, won by Nigeria.

Qualification rules mean that South Africa have now provisionally qualified one men’s lifter for the Olympics, and obviously depending on dope-testing carried out at the championships.

National coach Pandoo accompanied the team to Nairobi and said the team did exceptionally well considering the circumstances. “This was a very young team, especially the girls, but even the guys. They’ve taken part in a lot of local competitions but nothing like at this level. Also the difference between competing as an individual and as a team is very different. It becomes very tactical and 1kg can make a huge difference as you look at maximising the team’s placing. ÔÇ£Sometimes coaches have to be conservative to maximise points and the emphasis at this type of competition is points and not medalsÔÇØ.

“The women were doing well until the final day when they slipped to fifth and just missed out on qualifying for the Olympics. They ended up fifth out of about 13 competing countries.

“Our weightlifters work exceptionally hard but we are really up against it when it comes to the Olympics. Most of the other countries that ended above are in virtually permanent training camps and receive excellent funding and it makes a huge difference. Our athletes are prepared to do this full time but they simply can’t afford it. Lotto funding has made a big difference but to be able to compete at this level and Olympic level it takes more.”

Pandoo went on to praise Shushu, who is now based in Johannesburg but grew up in Manenberg. “He’s been around a while now, this is a late-maturing sport and he’s just about at his peak now. But there again, he had to fork out R4500 monthly from his own pocket towards preparation to be better able to compete in Nairobi.”

The coach is also looking further down the line in terms of excellence from his lifters. “If you look at the girls team its very, very young and talented. Mona Pretorius is only 22 and she’s been around for a while now and the other three members of the team are even younger than her.

“Zayanda is hugely talented and she’s still in matric. But how long are we going to be able to keep them in the sport when they have to concentrate on providing for themselves and their families. Zayanda lost her step-dad last year and her mom is also very sick so she has an awful lot on her mind.

“Amigene [Goliath] is only 16 at sports school in Kraaifontein and she’s also dabbling with netball as well as weightlifting. The future will tell but we are not resting on our laurels at the Federation ÔÇô┬á we are working hard and want to be on top.”

Last word to Shushu who says he never felt any affinity to weightlifting: My weightlifting career started in 1997. I never liked weightlifting and remember the first time I saw the sport in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, I laughed until my stomach muscles were painful.

“I was kind of tricked into doing weightlifting by Silvertree community Centre’s Thomson Mangaliso who said weightlifting would help condition my body for bodybuilding exercises. but in the space of a year I was chosen for SA at the African Championships in Algeria and took eighth spot.”

An uplifting story indeed…