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07 December 2021 | in FISU Athletes

South African university sport back in full swing after tough 2020-2021 season

After an almost two-year hiatus, South African university sport returned with a bang over the past month, with no less than six championships hosted across the country, serving up a feast of university sport action.

 

With COVID-19-enforced restrictions preventing the organization of sporting events last year, South African student-athletes were left in limbo, the grandstands left eerily empty as all major competitions were chalked off. The recent easing of restrictions put university sport organisers into overdrive, working overtime to deliver several high-quality sports events to ensure student-athletes were able to showcase their talents and put their many months of training towards a competitive cause.

 

Following four virtual championships, including karate (kata), chess, e-sport and a cycling challenge, all focus turned the University Sports South Africa (USSA) Netball Championships, which took place over a four-day period at the North-West University in Potchefstroom.

 

The 51st edition of the event, which was first hosted in Cape Town in 1967, involved 28 university teams from across the country, with hosts North-West University looking to defend the title they lifted in 2019. Yet it was not to be, with a familiar name being engraved on the winning trophy – that of University of Pretoria, who beat University of the Free State 37-35 in a closely-fought final to register a record-extending 22nd USSA Netball gold medal.

 

Staying courtside, the USSA Basketball Championship was next to tip off, with the Nelson Mandela University playing host to 16 teams in both the men’s and women’s division. The five-day tournament was a resounding success, with Vaal University of Technology overcoming University of Pretoria 65-49 in the women’s final, while Wits University beat defending champions University of Johannesburg 54-48 in the men’s decider.

 

Yoliswa Lumka, Director of Sport at Nelson Mandela University, revealed her delight after hosting a successful tournament. “The championship went well,” she said. “A lot of the challenges were related to COVID regulations and how we would be able to deliver a tournament while maintaining strict protocols, but we had a great team to be as prepared as we could be to deliver.

 

“I am excited that the tournament went well and that we got to see some good basketball which shows that universities are still good breeding grounds for future stars. I’m really excited that we are back offering sport programmes after almost two years of no university sport, so we have proved that with a lot of communication and planning, we can re-integrate sport into the university sector.”

 

The USSA Hockey Championship was next on the jam-packed university sport schedule, where the University of Pretoria did the double in winning both the men’s and women’s finals, the latter securing a fourth straight title to continue their dominance in the division.

 

The traditional powerhouse of university sport, Tuks – as the University of Pretoria are nicknamed – asserted themselves in two other USSA championships. It was a clean sweep of the Rowing Championships in which the men’s crew recorded a 12th-consecutive gold medal in the event, while the women’s team overcame University of Cape Town in the final to win their fourth consecutive rowing title. Staying in the water, team Tuks obliterated their opponents to win the USSA Swimming Championships held in their home pool. Led by South Africa’s golden girl Tatjana Schoenmaker – double gold winner at the Napoli 2019 Summer Universiade and winner of South Africa’s only gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games– the hosts emerged overall winners by more than 500 points over second-placed Independent Institute of Education and third-placed University of Stellembosch. This gave them aquatics bragging rights and added to the many successes earned across the recently held championships.

 

“We are extremely proud of our TuksSport teams, student-athletes, coaches, managers, facilities and support (sport science and medical) staff.,” said Stebe Ball, Director of Sport at Tuks. “We are proud of them not due to the numerous titles and medals they claimed, but more so how despite all the challenges that everyone has faced the last 21 months locally and globally, they kept on going. At no stage did they lose focus of being a team, and continued to find ways of still training and doing their sport. It is a reflection of the amazing people within our broader system that are solution-driven and passionate. We must also appreciate our University Senior Executive for backing sport at the University of Pretoria, trusting that we will continue to promote a positive image of UP, but also remaining within the boundaries imposed on us during the pandemic."

 

Wrapping up the feast of action was the USSA Cross Country Championships, held earlier this month in Bloemfontein. After two days of racing, involving 20 university teams from across South Africa competing in various distances, it was the University of Johannesburg that emerged triumphant, recording 10 medals – including six gold – to claim overall honours.

 

Winner of the women’s 3x4km relay, Tholoana Peu from the Tshwane University of Technology, summed up the general feeling of all athletes who were able to compete once again, as she shared her goals for the future. “It’s amazing to be back and see the vibe, and [it’s] encouraging to see how the athletes have been preparing and how hungry they were to participate. We were all so excited and it was amazing to be back.

 

“Chengdu is definitely my next target, and with just a few months left, it’s all about integrating a few touch ups in my training, refocusing and prioritizing a few things with my coach, so we will see what happens.”

 

South African university sport is well and truly back, with student-athletes once again given the chance to showcase their talents while starting to gear up for next year’s highly anticipated Chengdu 2021 FISU World University Games.

 

All photos courtesy of USSA South Africa

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