Bouncy gymnast Kirsten Beckett banked Team South Africa’s first individual gold medal and also helped her teammates to team gold at the African Games in Brazzaville on Saturday. The 19-year-old came out tops in the all-around competition after the two days of competition. Just Nigeria and Algeria had to compete on Sunday and Beckett and the team were in the stands when the action ended and the scores tallied.
Beckett had a provisional score of 40.25 for the three disciplines she completed, uneven bars, beam and vault. The floor event didn’t take place after the incorrect floor was supplied by organisers. For the team event Beckett was backed up by Bianca Mann, Claudia Cummins, Tylah Lotter and Angela Maguire. On the bus back to the Athletes’ Village, Johannesburg’s Beckett was unaware that she’d won SA’s first medal.
She says: ‘Wow, I didn’t know that, great news. All the medals I’ve won mean a lot to me but this is right up there with the best, especially after coming back from surgery to my left shoulder a year ago this month. It’s also my first African Games. I’ve had a nice consistent build-up to the Games and was pretty confident I’d do well – I think we’ve all adapted quite well here.’ Part of that build-up were the nationals in Cape Town in June where she ended fourth as team-mate here (and at Commonwealth Games last year) Bianca Mann was tops. As for the injury, she says: ‘It still gets a bit stiff now and then but I’m learning to manage it and it’s nowhere near as sore and restricting as it used to be.’
Beckett will be in action again on Sunday when she tackles two apparatus in the individual competition, the bar and beam, and after being one of the first codes to arrive in Congo, they’ll leave for home on Wednesday. Team SA’s badminton team played their way to a silver medal in the team competition at the Revolution sports facility on Saturday. The mixed team comprising Jennifer Fry and Andries Malan were first in competition and beat their Seychelles opponents in the semi-finals with a score of 21-14 21-18.
Jacob Maliekal, the current African Games champion, also played the men’s singles and thoroughly beat his opponent 21-13 and 21-11 respectively. Elme De Villiers sailed through her semi-finals and like her teammates, also won, 21-14 21- 10. The late afternoon saw the SA team battle it out with Mauritius in the very competitive finals.
Fortune was not on South Africa’s side though. The mixed doubles team lost 17-21 in both sets whilst in the women’s singles De Villiers lost both sets 21-10 and 21-9 respectively and in the women’s doubles, they tried so hard but luck was not on their side and they also lost 19-21 7-21. In the men’s doubles, Malan and Viljoen played extremely well and victory was theirs with scores of 21-14 21-9.
Likewise, Maliekal showed his prowess and thoroughly beat his opponent 21-10 21-9 respectively. Viljoen said the game was quite easy: ‘The game was quite easy even though we were under so much pressure but we picked well and we were confident and supported each other as a pair.’ The girls were however, frustrated with their performance. Said Fry: ‘The games were frustrating. It was one of those games where I panicked and felt under intense pressure. We tried our best but it was not good enough, and we hope to do better in the next competition. Maliekal says: ‘I’m happy to have contributed well in the finals. Let’s hope our teams will continue performing well.’
Team coach, Chris Dednam concluded: ‘The team played well and tried their best. We didn’t achieve a gold medal as anticipated but we appreciate all the effort from the team and hope to turn our weaknesses into strengths and capitalise on that in the next competitions.’ South Africa’s other medal of the day was another gold when the women’s epee team of Juliana Barrett, Gisele Vicatos, Aphiwe Tuku and Tamryn Carfoot fought their way to gold against Egypt. That was after Barrett had narrowly missed out on a medal in the individual epee competition the previous day.
The women toppled their north African opponents 45-38. Sunday sees the mens’ epee team competing.