A touch of voodoo in SA-Oz rivalry

2012-03-17 00:00

IN the international sporting arena, South Africa is always haunted and taunted by Australia.

At the UCI MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg the roles could be reversed, with Aussie downhill rider Jared Graves (29) having to overcome a touch of South African voodoo if he hopes to be on the podium.

It all revolves around him and SA BMX star Sifiso Nhlapo. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the pair had an “altercation” on the track, colliding and destroying each other’s Olympic dreams. It was all in the heat of battle where accidents do happen, and the two have remained good mates on and off the track.

Graves is in Pietermaritzburg having a go at downhill honours, and as he prepared for yesterday’s downhill qualifying he was, by chance, given race number 105, the number always used by Nhlapho.

“It’s his number and it’s quite ironic that, by pure chance, I happened to get it. It’s a tough one to call and I cannot decide whether it’s a good omen or one that’s already sealed my fate. Hopefully it’s not the latter and I can carry the number to at least a podium finish to make up for the Olympic disaster and make my mate proud,” said Graves.

In the last five years Graves has concentrated on BMX and four-cross, winning both four-cross World Cups in Pietermaritzburg.

“I toyed with downhill racing in 2009 and 2010, finishing eighth and 13th respectively. It was more for the hell of it rather than getting serious, but this time around I’ve focused on more training specifically for the event and I’m ready for a good finish,” he said.

Graves tore down the downhill course in qualifying yesterday, stopping the clock in 4:05:52, good enough to be ranked ninth, behind South African and hometown boy Greg Minnaar, who set the standard with a time of 3:59:60.

Spectators are advised to arrive early at the course near Cascades, because parking is at a premium. Marshals will be on hand to guide people to the best viewing and photographic spots.

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