On Thursday last week, in front of the grass embankment at the Wanderers and with only a handful of people watching, Imran Tahir, whose fielding is not his biggest strength, took a catch so magnificent it burnt on to the pupils of all watching it. The ball had been pumped up high in the air by an assistant coach. Tahir took six steps forward before he realised he needed to take at least three of them backwards. He turned, put in a big stretch, stuck out an arm and held on to the ball.
Cue celebrations from the group of players he had been conducting fielding training with, with one, Rassie van der Dussen I think it was, hugging the spinner, and high fives all round. From where he was smacking balls at Gulam Bodi, Geoffrey Toyana, the coach of the Bizhub Highveld Lions, looked up briefly and laughed. There were smiles all around the Wanderers last Thursday. It was a happy team, a contented, confident one, comfortable with each other and still focused on their jobs. It seemed like a cricketing and coaching utopia. The atmosphere, by common assent, has been created and sustained by Toyana, the first black coach of a major cricket franchise in South Africa.
Cameron van der Burgh is going to have to do some work on his hair. It’s too short. It doesn’t bounce. It has a bit of shine, but not the silky, feline bounce you’d expect from a man who is the new face, er, hair of Head & Shoulders, the biggest-selling shampoo in the world.
Van der Burgh needs to flounce into rooms. He needs to be able to push his hand through his hair in one of those post-shower moments that make models whimper in envy and simper in longing. At the announcement of his new partnership with the brand, held at a venue called The Venue in Morningside, Van der Burgh confessed he’d had his hair cut the day before. “The guy cut it too short,” he said. “I told him I just wanted a trim, but he took a little too much off around the sides.”
He looked sleek, though, and, happily, dandruff free. He is the first South African ambassador for the brand. Michael Phelps is the man the shampoo uses in their United States campaigns. Other Head & Shoulders ambassadors include Manny Pacquiao, Mark Cavendish, Lionel Messi, Jenson Button and Shahid Afridi. Expect to see Van der Burgh on a television screen near you soon. It’s deserved recognition for Van der Burgh. Swimmers usually don’t make a good living in South Africa. They struggle from meet to meet, hoping for their federation to be able to raise the funds to send them to events and pay for training. Van der Burgh is not affected by Swimming South Africa’s current financial malaise as he is part of Sascoc’s Opex programme and has his costs met, but making a living from the sport is hard.
Ryk Neethling showed that a swimmer could make money when he returned from the Athens Olympics as a gold medal winner. He became the face for big-name sponsors, invested in swimming clubs and learnt marketing. He is now the agent for Van der Burgh, and the London Olympic gold medallist now has deals with Investec, Audi, Tag Heuer, USN and Arena. What you see is what you get with Van der Burgh. There’s an honesty and openness about him that is endearing. This week, in keeping with Head and Shoulders’ building “confidence” brand message he spoke of how he had lacked confidence as a kid. He had been put on Ritalin for his ADHD, but one day his mother walked into his room and found him staring at the wall. They decided to chuck out the medications and use sport to teach him focus.
It worked. It worked rather well, and now it is paying off. One of the nicest men you will meet is reaping some of the rewards that he is due. But, he’s far from perfect. “Yeah, I’m going to have work on getting some bounce,” he laughed. “My hair needs some BMT.”
The past eight days have been a magnificent time for South African cycling.
From a brave team born at the tip of Africa winning perhaps the greatest one-day road race of them all, to the end of a dramatic, controversial and emotional 10th running of one of the greatest mountain bike races of them all, a race that embodies the essence of this brave, new, young land.
A chicken tried to cross the road near the Saronsberg Wine Estate yesterday, but it didn’t, so that joke was ended before it began.
It was two chickens, roosters, I think, but they ran back quickly as we rushed back to the finish line to watch the end of the second stage of the Absa Cape Epic on Monday, chickening out or suddenly realising that they didn’t know why they needed to cross the road in the first place.
From the heat of the Western Cape to the snow of Italy yesterday, the future and hope of South African cycling experienced very different St Patrick Day’s. For Songezo Jim, the MTN-Qhubeka rider, the day was one of weather so foul during the Milan-SanRemo, that parts of the race were neutralised and mechanics struggled to fix bikes whose cables had frozen in their housings, and experienced riders climbed into the back of buses, their mettle tested and pushed too far.
For Sipho Madolo, the prologue of the Absa Cape Epic yesterday was |another step in the journey of a mountain biker who only started the sport four years ago and who, along with partner Azukile Simayile, finished just over 11 minutes behind the stage winners, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy, the former a past world champion and three-time winner of the Epic, and the other the current Olympic champion.
Eight years ago, Jim did not know how to ride a bike, and is now on the biggest stage of them all. “It’s a Hollywood story,” said Dr Jeroen Swart, who works at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town and was coaching Burry Stander, among others. “Here’s this guy who was born in the Eastern Cape, and whose parents died. He moved to the Western Cape to live with his aunt and who watched the Argus go by. He decided he wanted to ride then. Now he’s the first black African to take part in the World Tour, and it’s no fluke. He has worked so hard, and has so much natural talent, but it’s his drive to succeed that makes him stand out. He came out through the Life Cycling Academy.”
Luthanda Kaka (now of Team Bonitas) was the big star then and was going to ride for a Danish team, and at the farewell function held to bid farewell to him in Khayelitsha Swart notice a kid sitting in the front row. “He was about 16 then. I saw his eyes were glazed over and he wasn’t really focused on what we were talking about. You could see he was thinking about where Luthanda was going, and how he was going to race in the top European races, and he was thinking about the future and imagining himself in it. I said to the guys, ‘that chap there, you can see that he’s thinking’. They told me he was Songezo Jim and was a talented youngster who would do amazing things.
“Back then he set his vision on getting to Europe and nothing would get in his way. Three years ago he had nothing. He was at my house with a bike that had one shifter that didn’t work, no brake pads and worn-out tyres. We scraped together money to replace all of his parts. He didn’t have a team and so we paid for his entry fees. And now he’s starting Milan-SanRemo.”
Four years ago, Madolo, who is part of the songo.info project in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch, started mountain biking to lose weight. “Ja. I was very fat. I weighed 70kg at that time,” said Madolo, who is around five foot five. “It was 2009 and I was only 18 years old. Then I started to think about doing sport. I was a soccer player. I saw the BMX at Songo and I asked him if I could join the mountain bike. He told me to start running before I could get on a mountain bike. I ran for three months. I ran almost 10km a day, every day, in the morning and afternoon. I really wanted to do it. But Songo (Fipaza, the director of the songo.info project) was a little bit difficult. He made me run a lot.”
Fipaza said yesterday that it had obviously helped Madolo, and “made him strong”. He now leads the Exxaro development category at the Absa Cape Epic, a title he won last year. He is just 22, has passed matric and is ready to take his riding to the next level.
“It was a hard year last year. I was busy with books, training and time, but I was mentally strong even if I was just a bit unfit,” said Madolo. “I spoke with Christoph (Sauser, the Epic winner) about training, and he let me train with him in December. He’s a machine, but he is a real man. He made a real difference in Kayamandi. He changed many lives. He’s friendly and easy to talk to, and he gives great advice. Last year he taught me how to train, before I was just riding. We even trained on Christmas.”
At the “Unofficial World Cup” in Kayamandi this week, which featured the burst mountain bikers in the world, including many of the teams in the top 10, Madolo had planned to ride just two laps and then retire. But he couldn’t.
“The people were shouting my name, ‘Come on Sipho. Come on Sipho’. I thought, this is the beginning for me. Because if the little children shouting for me and watching, I just knew this was not only for today. This was for tomorrow, and when they saw me on the street they would say, ‘Hi, Sipho’. So I did four laps for the little kids. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for them.”
Madolo wants to be a professional mountain biker. Jim wanted to be a professional rider in Europe. Dreams happen.
From: @GaryGoldrugbyiq (Gary Gold wonders at the behaviour of some of the Italian players during Ireland’s match)
Sent: 16 Mar 2013 5:50pm
Cannot believe I just saw Catrogiovanni texting while he is on the bench for Italy? Maybe I am Old school but that's bloody shocking!!
From: @BakkiesBotha4 (Bakkies is a tennis fan. Who knew?)
Sent: 11 Mar 2013 8:42pm
Ons tennis speler Anderson speel nie sleg op die ATP World Tour nie.
From: @JayRThomson (MTN-Qhubeka rider on the snow-affected Milan-SanRemo)
Sent: 17 Mar 2013 2:40pm
I dont think ive ever been so cold in my life..Couldnt even think..thank goodness they stopped us to transfer to warmer weather..#MSRsnowday