Unelle Snyman added another silver medal to her growing medals collection after going down narrowly in the women’s -78kg division judo final at the African Games in Rabat on Sunday, writes GARY LEMKE.
The silver matches that which she won at the African Championships in Cape Town in April and it came after a titanic struggle with Sarah Mazouz of Ghana, where only one point (1-0) separated the two fighters inside the arena at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium. Despite finishing strongly, the end had come too soon for the 23-year-old. However, what’s in no doubt is that she will live to fight another day.
It is also Team SA’s second medal of these Games, following judo teammate Michaela Whitebooi’s silver in the women’s -48kg division on Saturday. Two silvers from five judo players represents the haul of the team here in Morocco.
Gold was desperately close for the Tuks HPC student, but instead of dwelling on what might have been Snyman preferred to look at the reality of the situation. ‘I gave it my all, I really did. There are no excuses. I tried my grips, various techniques, but it wasn’t meant to be. She got the early hold down (for the point) and that’s all it took. She also had two penalties against her, but I can’t complain.
‘As I walked on I just prayed that I could represent something that’s more than worldly, you know, light and salt of the earth and I think I did. Unfortunately I couldn’t pull through with the gold, but I gave it everything I had,’ she added.
Snyman, who had received a bye through the elimination stage, made short work of her first opponent, teenage Zimbabwean Christi-Rose Pretorius, but it got a whole lot tougher in the semi-final.
Sarra Mzougui won the World Junior (U21) Championship in 2015 and the same year she took the silver medal at the African Games in Brazzaville. In 2016 she won silver at the African Championships and in 2017 she picked up bronze at the African Open.
The Tunisian was also the bronze medallist at the 2019 African Championships in Cape Town, where Snyman had earned the silver medal.
It was always likely to be a nip-and-tuck affair and so it proved, with the match going into golden score after the four minutes had failed to separate them on the board (0-0). However, the South African finally got her breakthrough after 2:39 of golden score, winning by Ippon and earning her place in the final.
Awaiting her was the experienced Mazouz, who had caused an upset in the semi-finals by beating the current African Games and African Championship gold medallist, Kaouthat Ouallal of Algeria.
The 32-year-old Mazouz had earned the bronze medal at the 2019 African Championships and Snyman might have been surprised to be facing her, rather than the Algerian in the final.
However, there was no disputing that it was going to be the toughest of contents; it always is when there’s a continental title on the line. There could only be one winner and on the day it went the way of Gabon and not South Africa.
Snyman was humble in defeat saying that the draining semi-final, which went to nearly seven minutes, hadn’t ruined her chances in the final. ‘Every fight is tough, but that semi was a really long one. But I had a good recovery between fights, so can’t blame anything or anyone.’
Snyman is another from this TeamSA squad who is off to the Worlds in Tokyo in the coming days and she feels that these Gaemes have been ‘good prep’ for what is to come.
For coach Nikola Filipov it was something of a bittersweet moment. ‘I’m proud of Unelle, she gave all she could. For me it was, by far, the best final on the programme and when one is involved in a fight like that there are no losers.’