South Africa's most perfect sportsman was a boxer

25 June 2017 - 00:02 By DAVID ISAACSON

Is Wayde van Niekerk on track to become South Africa's most perfect sports specimen to date?
The 400m Olympic champion this week improved his 100m personal best to 9.94sec, suggesting he's up for the double at the world championships in August.
Lifting the 200m and 400m crowns in London will rocket Van Niekerk - the only man on the planet to have run a sub-10-second 100m, sub-20 200m and sub-44 400m - into a realm inhabited only by a few of his compatriots.
The summit of South African sports Mount Olympus is home to the likes of golfer Gary Player, winner of nine major titles, and swimmer Penny Heyns, breaker of 14 world records and the only woman to have claimed the 100m and 200m breaststroke double at an Olympics.
But the slopes below are littered with the carcasses of burned stars who fell short of their potential, foiled by injury, personal demons, isolation or plain misfortune.
Did we truly see the best of cricketer Herschelle Gibbs?His 175 runs off 111 balls in the 438 match at the Wanderers is legend, but what more might he have achieved had he not dropped that catch at the 1999 World Cup, or been involved with the match-fixing scandal, the dagga and partying?
Gibbs wasn't as dysfunctional as football player Jabu Pule, who changed his surname to Mahlangu after turning his life around.
Somewhere between the two of them was boxer Hottie van Heerden, who might have been the greatest of all South Africa's fighters.
The old-timers who saw him in action as a middleweight and light-heavyweight unanimously rate him as South Africa's greatest southpaw of all time. He outranks the country's more recent left-handed heroes like Harold Volbrecht, Mzukisi Sikali, Gabula Vabaza and Corrie Sanders, they say.
Hottie - so named from the Afrikaans word hotklou, meaning southpaw - oozed natural talent which he wasted through his love for booze, a good party and a brawl.
Early in his career Van Heerden was given the opportunity to spar with Willie Toweel, at the time a top fighter, and he arrived at the gym sporting a black eye and cut lip, the spoils from a bar fight the night before.
After a few professional fights he went to jail for robbery, which he committed unwittingly apparently.
While he traded blows with the owner of an apartment at the end of a party, his friends cleaned the place out.
A rascal outside the ring, Van Heerden was sublime inside.
While his boxing licence in South Africa was suspended for a period, his management sent him Down Under to keep him active. One fight was against journeyman Don Jones at the Sydney Stadium in January 1963.There are various versions of this story, but the most colourful was told by the late Granville Gorton, a one-time referee and judge who even boxed a bit, although his greatest skill might have been raconteur.
Rain clouds above the roofless venue opened up after Van Heerden and Jones had weighed in, and the promoter quickly announced the bout was postponed to the next day.
Not long afterwards, however, the weather had unexpectedly cleared and the promoter decided the tournament could go ahead that night after all as planned.
Gorton informed Van Heerden's manager, but the boxer had gone out on his preferred brand of sight-seeing.
After a lengthy and at times frantic search, the manager found Van Heerden passed out in an establishment of ill-repute in King's Cross, Sydney's red-light district.
Van Heerden was pretty much out for the count.
The manager had to transport him to the stadium, dress him and then help him to the ring. The opening bell rang and Jones took control early on, catching Van Heerden with the mother of all snotklaps...

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