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Pressure on squash duo

By Mark Etheridge

Three more South Africans go under the global spotlight on Tuesday as the quest for medals continues at the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan.

Team SA are still hunting for their first medal (they won five at Duisberg, Germany in 2005) and squash players Siyoli Lusaseni and Stephen Coppinger and tumbling gymnast Lebogang Ramokopelwa are the latest to join the chase.

Lusaseni is first up and would probably have faced the toughest challenge after being drawn against Australian-born Netherlander Natalie Grinham. The enormity of the challenge she faced can be seen by the fact that Cape Town’s Lusaseni is ranked No 158 in the world and her opponent was No5.

But Grinham, who was second seed has been upgraded to second seed after South African-born second seed Natalie Grainger (US) pulled out with a foot injury. This means that Lusaseni now plays the world’s sixth ranked Allison Waters of Britain (fourth seed for this tournament).

“Sure it’s a tough ask, but there’ll be less pressure on me,” says 26-year-old Lusaseni. “We’ve never played each other so she’ll probably know a lot less about her than I know about her.

“Training here was initially a slight problem because the courts we first used had varnish on them so you had to play slightly carefully, but today we used the competition courts which were great.”

Coppinger, 25, has also been shuffled around the draw after the late withdrawal of Egypt’s Hisham Mohd Ashour. Rising Indian star Saurav Ghosal, 22, becomes the No8 seed — and also receives a bye in the opening round.

Coppinger — who, like Ghosal, is based in the English city of Leeds — is also elevated to a seeded position, the 16th slot.

He would previously have played 15th seed Simon Rosner, now up to 14th seed and who will have a first round bye.

Now facing the Hilton College (KwaZulu-Natal) educated competitor, who spends half the year in England and the other half in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, will be another German in the shape of Jens Schoor.

There’s a double-edged sword for Coppinger. Victory would be great but should he win, he’s up against the second seed Jamie Willstrop of England┬á — on the same day!

Final South African on show will be Ramokopelwa.

He goes off in the tumbling discipline where gymnasts must perform two routines, a straight pass and twisting pass to impress judges. Good news is that with two of the 10 original athletes having withdrawn all eight remaining competitors go through to the final later in the day.

The Mafikeng athlete had a slight ankle problem last week but team manager Tseko Mogotsi, himself a World Games veteran, says it shouldn’t pose a problem. “He had physio on it and it’s OK now. There were a few early hitches with equipment due to the fact that Taiwan don’t have tumbling or trampoline gymnasts but that’s all sorted now.”

Those in the know say that in terms of medal chances, Ramokopelwa’s chances are slim but if he performs to his best and finishes in the top half he can consider himself satisfied. And what better birthday present for Sunday when he turns 23!