Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Games medals will give judo a lift, says champion Whitebooi

Whitebooi said judo had allowed her to express herself in a safe and controlled environment.

With her breakthrough gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, Michaela Whitebooi hopes to have given the sport of judo a significant boost back home.

After securing three medals (one silver and two bronze) at the 2014 Glasgow Games, South African judokas did not step on the podium at the 2018 Gold Coast showpiece.

They ended their Commonwealth drought, however, by making an explosive impact on Monday – the opening day of the judo competition at the multi-sport spectacle in Birmingham.

Whitebooi was superb in the women’s 48kg division, with the 26-year-old Olympian outclassing Shushila Devi Likmabam of India to bag the gold medal.

ALSO READ: Michaela Whitebooi wins judo gold at Commonwealth Games

Another judoka, Charne Griesel, also stepped on the podium in the 52kg category, beating Marie Celine Baba Matia of Cameroon in the bronze medal contest.

“It’s definitely going to push us up high. I think we’re going to get way more support,” Whitebooi predicted after her impressive victory.

“People know now what judo is, and they’ll be more aware of the sport, so I’m really happy that I could be a part of that, promoting the sport as well as women in sport.”

Michaela Whitebooi
Michaela Whitebooi (wearing white) competes against Amy Platten in the semifinals at the Commonwealth Games. Picture: Gallo Images

After rising from her own humble beginnings in the Eastern Cape, Whitebooi urged young South Africans to consider taking up the sport, which had largely featured as a fringe code for South Africa at multi-sport Games in recent years.

Judo, she said, had allowed her to express another side of herself in a safe and controlled environment, and she believed her time on the mat had helped her grow as a person.

ALSO READ: More medals for SA swimmers at Commonwealth Games

“There’s something about the sport that keeps you going. Whether you lose or win, there’s that spirit that makes you want to keep going and going,” Whitebooi said.

“I think there’s a real difference between when I’m on the mat and off the mat. When I’m off the mat I’m a girly girl, but when I’m on the mat I really believe I’m like a bulldog, a monster, and I’m ready to fight. So there’s a big difference, but I’m still me.”

Another South African, Thomas-Laszlo Breytenbach, will turn out in the men’s judo competition on Wednesday when he competes in the semifinals of the 90kg division.

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