TWO UCT postgraduate students Dale Hudson (Masters) and Lara Keytel (PhD, who worked with Mark Shuttleworth in Russia), received their South African Sailing Colours in June. The two form half of the "Core Four", as they call themselves, who earned South Africa a respectable sixth place at the International Sailing Federation World Sailing Games in Marseille this month. Monday Paper interviewed and photographed the two at the Sports Science Institute, and got more than we bargained for.
At the heated swimming pool at the Sports Science Institute the going is tough. The Monday Paper photographer manoeuvres Hudson and Keytel (who are at the UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine) into position against the rippling water (nautical theme). "Yoohoo!" invites a voice seductively from the pool, flashing his barrel-torso tantalisingly. "Hello-o-o there!" calls another, raising a fleshy leg-with-flipper coquettishly for the camera. They are middle-aged Australian men (a scouting press contingent for the South African leg of the Tri-Nations?). Each time the flash pops, there is an open mouthed Aussie in the background, leaping from the water like a breaching whale. ("Hey, get out of here! You think you're Ian Thorpe or something!")
Our new Springboks are unfazed by the tiresome attentions and teasing flicks of water from the pool. In fact, the rigorous mental and physical training regime (including sessions with a sports psychologist) they underwent for the world sailing games probably prepared them for more than the punishing conditions they encountered in Marseille. They are determined, focused and single-minded, even when it comes to the camera lens.
Hudson describes sailing like "chess on water". In Marseille the winds were light, fully testing the team's (also comprising Gayle McArthur and Inge Schabort) tactical and physical prowess.
"When we trained in Cape Town we were used to 10–25 knot winds. In Marseille we had to contend with winds below five knots. It takes more discipline, skill and patience to sail in lighter winds. But then again, to compete at this level, you have to be good in all conditions," she added.
Sailing in the gold fleet, or finalists, the team tied for 5th place on the third day but were placed 6th out of 18 on a points breakdown. "It was the most exciting racing we've ever done," Keytel enthused. "There was not one day when any of the top teams finished in the same position," Hudson concurred. "The fleet was that close." (France was first, followed by New Zealand, Australia, Italy and Great Britain.) But even better: competing for overall honours for the King's Trophy, South Africa was placed a very creditable fifth overall among 63 countries.
One could argue that with proper sponsorship (the team paid their own way), a professional trainer and all the benefits other teams enjoy at this level, the South African women's team would have fared even better. Keytel and Husdon agree, but are philosophical. Hudson's brother, Roger, a UCT final year Business Science student, acted as their coach; the sole support they enjoyed. But what they lacked in official support they ground out the hard way with rigorous physical training, sessions with a sports psychologist to build them into a synchronised, harmonious team, each with specific skills and strengths. "That's why we called ourselves the 'Core Four'," Keytel quipped. "We really went in with our team dynamics carefully worked out, without false hopes or any of that gung-ho stuff."
The duo have now focused on forthcoming sailing events; they will represent UCT in the Lipton Cup in August and will compete at the J22 class world championships in Corpus Christi in the Gulf of Mexico in October. Coupled with the demands of their academic studies, the rising sportswomen have a hectic schedule.
Back down at the pool, the Aussies have gone quiet, momentarily, concocting the next volley of cheeky gestures and verbal innuendo. We are savouring the moment: they have unwittingly offered the most vociferous support any South Africa sports stars will ever get from Down Under.