Gymnasts make SA proud

2010-10-17 13:00

There is a vast ­difference between aiming to become a domestic worker one day and then winning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games.

Ask 18-year-old Durban-born gymnast Jennifer Khwela, who won a silver medal in artistic gymnastics at the 2010 ­Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on Thursday.

Khwela suffered oxygen deprivation at birth, which led to her having learning difficulties, and she had to attend a school for ­special educational needs.

Being brought up by her domestic worker grandmother, ­Rebecca Khwela, her ambition was to one day emulate her and take over her duties as a ­domestic worker.

On Friday you could sense her smile through the telephone line from her hotel room in ­Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where she was preparing to take part in the artistic gymnastics world cup today.

The tournament started ­yesterday and will finish on ­Thursday.

“I am very excited,” she said.

“I had mixed feelings when I won the medal. I was a bit angry at myself; felt a hint of disappointment at missing out on a gold medal – but I soon realised that I had not actually expected to win a medal at all, coming ­into the ­competition.”

She came up just .038 short of winning gold after being beaten by 2008 British Olympian Imogen Cairns in the women’s vault ­final.

Khwela, together with 19-year-old Sibongile Mjekula, who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the rhythmic gymnastics ­finals, not only made South ­Africa proud but the whole world sit up and take note of their ­unusual talents.

The pair excelled in sports that are regarded as foreign in the black community.

The entire nation watched as both contestants systematically went through their well­rehearsed, silky ­movements.

Mjekula was the reserve for the finals in every rhythmic event and was placed 10th in both the rope and hoop events, behind Francesca Fox of England and Miriam Chamilova of Canada.

The pair’s performance and achievements have raised hopes that they will be serious medal contenders at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

They have made some serious inroads in their respective disciplines, with Khwela having won a gold medal in the women’s vault at the International Gymnastics Federation’s Artistic Gymnastics World Cup A competition in Doha, Qatar, in March.

The duo also travel extensively, which is also one of Khwela’s interests as “one gets to see many historic places such as Buckingham Palace, and buy things that you wouldn’t get in South Africa.”

From Delhi, Khwela went straight to the Netherlands.

“I will be back home on Friday, stay for a week and then travel to Croatia and later to Germany before the end of the year”, she said.

Mjekula has already been to Moscow this year and came back to take part in the 2010 SAGF Gym Games, where she won a gold medal at the Rhythmic Gymnastics National ­Championships.

And then it was off to Delhi. She will compete in the ­Bumbo Cup at the Joni Sports Centre in Pretoria on December 2.

Khwela’s parting shot was: “This is a very good sport for young people. Parents must ensure that their children start quite early, as by the time one is 13 it is already too late. Black people are quite good at this sport. It is also more suitable for short people as they adapt easily to the necessary movements.” 

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