Boxing is still searching for Olympic success

Once a rich source of medals, the code has won none since 1992

01 July 2018 - 00:00 By DAVID ISAACSON

Who wins when a boxer fights a wrestler?
It's an age-old debate, but there's little doubt that in South Africa right now, wrestling is beating the pants off boxing.
At the last three editions of the Commonwealth Games, from 2010 to 2018, wrestlers captured nine medals while only one boxer, Tulani Mbenge, made the podium.
Both codes, busy with their respective national championships, have their sights firmly set on the Tokyo Games in 2020.
Boxing, South Africa's richest source of Olympic silverware before isolation with 19 medals, is still searching for their first success since readmission in 1992.
Wrestling can almost taste what would be its first-ever Olympic medal. "I'm pretty confident," said national head coach Nico Coetzee. He points to the two gold medals they won at the African championships in Nigeria in February. "We haven't done that before."
One of the champions, Martin Erasmus, went on to claim the 97kg gold at the Gold Coast Games in April.
The SA Wrestling Federation's turnaround in fortunes came after it introduced a new philosophy in 2009, when the focus shifted to long-term development."We started participating in international camps," said Coetzee, adding that they spend up to 90 days overseas.
There are eight compulsory national training camps a year. "It's tough for a sport where our coaches and participants are volunteers."
While they get some money from Lotto and government, the federation does its own fund-raising to cover most of its costs.
Their top stars, however, will need additional funding from the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) to succeed in Tokyo, said Coetzee, who was mat-side at his championships in Newcastle the past two days. "We are approaching Sascoc about that."
More than 130 boxers are expected this week at their championships in Secunda, the biggest entry in about five years, said SA National Boxing Organisation (Sanabo) president Andile Mofu.
He was national coach in 2006 when Bongani Mwelase won SA's only Commonwealth Games boxing gold since readmission. The welterweight was the country's best chance of a post-isolation Olympic boxing gong, but he turned professional instead.The exodus of top fighters to the paid ranks remains a problem to this day, but even so, Mofu is hopeful of a medal in Tokyo.
Since Mofu became president in 2013, the number of internationally accredited coaches has grown from 16 to 47. This month 90 provincial coaches will get a chance to upgrade to national status.
To give boxers more action, Sanabo launched an annual league competition, and they're trying to strike exchange agreements with top boxing nations like Ukraine, Kazakhstan and India.
International camps are expensive, and it's impossible to raise money in a sport where club trainers pay out of their own pockets to feed and equip their boxers.
Mofu paid tribute to one such coach, Billy Hurford of South Hills in Johannesburg, who died recently. The fighters Hurford produced - from Flo Simba to the Malajika brothers, who are well known in amateur circles - mourned at his funeral this week.
It's unsung heroes like Hurford who craft the talent and spawn the dreams.
But it's the federations that must convert those into medals, and from today they've got just 753 days until the Tokyo Olympics.

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