By Ron Jackson
Boxing has been a regular Olympic sport since 1904, but South Africans have only participated in the boxing competition from 1920 when the Games were held in Antwerp, Belgium. In the nine Olypic competitions held between 1920 and 1960, South African boxers have won 6 gold, 4 silver and 9 bronze medals.
Due to politics, South Africa was banned from the Games after 1960 and was re-admitted in 1992 when the Games were held in Barcelona, Spain.
Unfortunately in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta, USA in 1996, the South Africans fared badly with no representatives going beyond the second round in the competition.
At the 1992 Games, Light Flyweight Fana Twala was no match for Spain's Rafael Lozano Munoz and was comprehensively beaten on points in the first series and the Welterweight representative, Giovanni Pretorius, suffered the same fate when he was completely outclassed by Sweden's Soeren Antman and stopped in the third round of his first fight.
In 1996, Light Flyweight, Masibulele Makepula, was outpointed in the second series by Rafael Lozano of Spain and Featherweight, Phillip Ndou, was also eliminated in the second series by Somluck Kamsing of Thailand when he was beaten on points.
In the Featherweight division, South Africa's Irvin Buhlalu was outpointed by Veangviset Phongist of Thailand in the first seris and Light Middle, Victor Kunene, suffered the same fate when he was eliminated by Pavel Polakovic from the Czech Republic.
Light Heavyweight, Sybrand Botes, was beaten by Enrique Flores from Puerto Rico to be eliminated in the second series.
In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the South African Representatives, Phumzile Matyhila, Jeffrey Mathebula and Danie Venter were all eliminated in the second round. Light Flyweight, Phumzile Matyhila had a bye in his first round, but was completely outclassed by the Kenyan, Suleiman Wanjau, being stopped in the first round. After winning his first fight, Light Heavyweight, Danie Venter, was stopped in the fourth by Gucharan Singh of India in the second series.
Unfortunately the Featherweight representative, Jeffrey Mathebula, was also eliminated in the second round when he was comprehensively outboxed by Kazakhstan's, Bekzat Sattarkhanov, before losing by a margin of 16-5.
At the 2004 Games in Athens, the three South African representatives failed to progress beyond the first round. However, Kgotso Motau was not disgraced in losing a close decision to the more experienced Ukrainian, Oleg Mashkin in the first series of the 75KG Middleweight Division. Motau lost a 25-22 decision after being seven points ahead at the end of the second round.
The Lightweight representative, Bongani Mahlangu, lost a 22-14 decision to Rovshan Huseynov of Azerbaijan in his first fight and Featherweight, Galada Ludumo, was outclassed by another boxer from Azerbaijan, Shahin Imranov, when the bouth was stopped in the third round with the South African behind 23-3 on the scorecards.
At hte Beijing Olympics in 2008, South Africa's sole representative Flyweight, Jackson van Tonder was eliminated in the first round when he was beaten 9-1 by Anvar Yunusov from Tajikistan.
Since 1952 both boxing semi-finalists have been awarded medals and as a result, South Africa's Andries Newman, Lennie Leisching and Willie Toweel received bronze medals which were presented to them in 1970. In the twelve tournaments in which the South Africans have taken part, the contestants have won 102 fights and lost 72.
George Hunter, winner of the Val Barker Cup in 1948 for the best boxer at the Games, won five fights on his way to a gold medal and has the most number of winning fights by a South African. Other gold medallists, Willie Smith (1924), Laurie Stevens (1932) and Gerald Dreyer (1948) had four wins whilst Clarence Walker (1920) and Dave Carstens (1932) only needed three wins to achieve gold.
At the 1948 Olympics in London, England, South Africa had representatives in all eight weight divisions for the first time in their history. When the 1952 Games were held in Helsinki, Finland, it was the first time that provision had been made for 10 weight diviions. The new divisions were Light Welterweight and Light Middleweight. However, South Africa was only represented in eight divisions in these Games. There were no representatives in the middle and light heavyweight divisions.
Possibly one of the most unfortunate competitors in the Olympics was South African Lightweight, Thomas Hamilton-Brown, who in Berlin in 1936 lost a split decision to Carlos Lillo of Chile in his opening round match. However, it was later discovered that one of the judges had mistakenly reversed the scores and Hamilton-Brown was in fact the winner and eligible to move into the next round. Unfortunately he could not make the weight after going on an eating spree after his loss, and was disqualified from the competition.
The Val Barker Trophy was instituted in 1936, to recompense the "Best Stylist" in the Olympic Boxing Tournament. It was named after a man who boxed as amateur in the sports' very early days and became Honorary Secretary of the first world governing body FIBA (forerunner of the AIBA) on its formation in 1920.
The prize does not have to be a gold medallist, although it always has with two exceptions - Kenya's Featherweight runner-up, Phillip Waruinge in 1968 and Ray Jones, robbed in the 1988 Light-Middle final.