South Africa’s women’s tug-of-war team head for Europe on Monday to do battle at the 2016 World Championships in Vollendam, Netherlands.
By Mark Etheridge – The women’s side are currently ranked third in the world rankings and will be taking on 11 other countries.
As per norm, the eastern nations of Chinese Taipei and China will be South Africa’s toughest opponents. Other countries will be the Basque Country, England, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Three years ago, the SA women’s side won a bronze medal at the World Games in Cali, Colombia and also got the same colour medal at the World Championships in Ireland a year later.
At the heart of the 12-strong squad are the team who fared so well in Ireland and there are two new faces in the shape of Steffi Shepherd and Samantha Wilmot, both of them still teenagers at just 17 years old. In fact there’s a 30-year age gap between youngest and oldest.
Four of the squad are also part of the gold medal winning outdoor world champs team from the Netherlands three years ago.
Coach will once again be Anton Gerber and he’s incorporated a lot more ‘live’ pulling practice against other teams.
This off-season the women also turned to cross fit training to strengthen their legs and improve their general fitness and by all accounts this is one of the strongest women’s tug-of-war teams to leave these shores on international duty.
A measure of their improvement can be seen in one of coach Gerber’s fitness assessment tests.
In this the women have to hoist a weight-filled drum to a height of four metres. The weight of the drum and weights is then measured as a percentage of the total weight of the ladies’ team. In 2014, the women’s team peaked at 132%.
Now, the current team are currently returning a mark of 145%.
Another measure of their fitness is the fact that, at the one practice, the women’s team, weighing in at 621kg, pulled live against a mens team weighing 928kg – and the women’s team came out unbeaten.
Another invaluable improvement came with the the tour of the Chinese Taipei side to South Africa in 2014.
It was there that Gerber noticed that the visitors’ legs were a lot stronger than the legs of the locals and accordingly changed his fitness training.
More improvements were by observing the different technique of holding the rope used by the Chinese Taipei women.
Six of the World Games team are part of this squad – Leonell Steyn (who will captain the team), Kittie Terblanche, the mother-daughter combo of Rene and Ane Ras, Yolandi Venter and Claudia Rix.
Also on hand with much valuable experience is Kobie Phillips, who was part of the 2009 team at World Games in Taiwan. She’s second in charge of the TWIF officials at the world championships.
The full squad is: Leonell Steyn (captain), Kittie Terblanche (vice-captain), Rene Ras, Ane Ras, Nadine Stoop, Janke de Wet, Yolandi Venter, Samantha Wilmot, Steffi Shepherd, Rene Groenewald, Melanie Smith and Claudia Rix. Coach: Anton Gerber. Manager: Charlie Solms.