Michaela Whitebooi is a South African athlete who represented South Africa in the sport of Judo. Michaela was at the 2019 Africa Championship in Cape Town, then she won silver medal in Morocco at the Africa Games. In 2020 at the African Senior Judo Championships in Madagascar she was crowned African Champion. This put her well on her way to realizing her life-long dream of representing South Africa at the next Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Obzeva.co.za: Let’s talk about your background, family and your fondest memory of growing up in your hometown.
MW Answer: I have 3 sisters and my mom. My father passed on in May 2009. I grew up in Booysen park, port Elizabeth. I remember playing soccer with the boys in the street, I also had so much fun running around and playing games with my friends in the street. We used to play games like “3 tins” and “diketo”. My fondest memories are the times my dad sent in a absence letter to my school so that I can be excused for the day of school. He would take me with his class for outings, the learners use to treat me like a princess and my dad always gave me anything I wanted. My dad was a mathematics teacher, him and I always had fun on weekends, having the neighbours over, braaing, dancing, taking pictures. The good old days.
Obzeva.co.za – Port Elizabeth is known for producing athletes who set high standards in their field. Schalk Burger, Dane Klate, Shaun Pollock and now you.
What is it about that part of the world that makes it so consistent at producing such phenomenal talent?
MW Answer: I am truly honoured to be mentioned among those great names. It humbles me to be known amongst those top athletes. Port Elizabeth has many potential sports men and women who unfortunately did not get the opportunity that any other top athlete received. I cannot speak for them, but I know for myself I have received many amazing opportunities that I have grabbed as they say in Afrikaans “hande en tande”. I believe it is not the place that made us get to where we are now, it might’ve been our backgrounds, our ambitions and our hunger for success.
Obzeva.co.za: What attracted you to the sport of judo?
MW Answer: It was the fact that the girls were kicking the boys’ buttocks, and I wanted the power to also do that. I truly started loving the sport once I received medals for it, because the winning made me hungry for more success. I used to cry at competitions whether I won or lost my fights.
Obzeva.co.za: You are a judoka; explain to us a little bit about the sport of judo. What is the object of each game? How is it scored? And so on.
MW Answer: Judo is a self-defence gripping sport, where you aim to win by scoring points with throwing your opponent to the ground or by means of submission. We have 2 different scores, one is known as “wazari” which is 7 points. This score you receive from throwing your opponent onto their side of their bodies and it comes from a slower reaction. The second score is “Ippon”, this score is 10 points and if you receive one of them then you immediately win the fight. You can hold your opponent down onto the mat for 20 seconds with their back onto the mat and you will receive an “Ippon” and win the fight. Strangulations and arm-bars can be used once you and your opponent are on the ground and when your opponent taps out, you win the fight. People always assume that it is karate, because they are familiar with the sport. However, in judo we are not allowed to kick or punch our opponent.
Obzeva.co.za: What are the different formats of the sport? Which do you prefer and why?
MW Answer: You get 2 formats that makes up the sport of Judo. One is standing fighting known as “tachi-waza” and the ground fighting is known as “newaza”. I love both the forms, but I am seen more as a standing fighter than a ground fighter, which I would like to change and find a balance between them. I believe the best fighter is the one that can move from the one tachi-waza immediately into newaza to win. The tops players can succeed in both the forms.
Obzeva.co.za: Now if you think of the sport of Rugby and Soccer, there is an elitist snobbery between players of either sport. Where the one groups think that their sport is more challenging than the other. You get the same kind of comments between Boxers and EFC fighters.
Do you get the same in type of classism between judokas and say freestyle wrestlers?
MW Answer: Yes, I believe so. You will always believe that your sport is the better martial art form than the rest of them. Each style of fighting has it’s own difficulties and that makes it so unique. We are all fighting to win but we do it in different kinds of methods.
Obzeva.co.za: Let’s talk about the challenges in the sport. What would you say are some of the difficulties people at your level of the game experience the most?
MW Answer: Funding is a great challenge, as you would like to travel to competition, travel to train amongst the best and even use the best equipment to succeed. Weight control is definitely a huge part of judo and at times you can see how many judoka’s struggle to make their weight class. Mindset, having a champions mindset is something you need to learn and grow into your daily life, and that is the most challenging factor I believe.
Obzeva.co.za: You have represented South Africa in 2019 and 2020. How did both experiences compare for you?
MW Answer: 2019 was on home ground soil, and that was exciting for me. I had people cheering me on, supporting me each step of the way and I also had my coach by my side. In 2020, the competition was away and that resulted in my coach not being able to travel along. I felt a great amount of pressure knowing that everyone wants to take the title and beat me. Now I am proud to say that I won the title on both occasions being at home and away and that made me realise what abilities I actually have.
Obzeva.co.za: Let’s talk academics. You are graduate of the University Of Pretoria (TUKS) in the field of Internal Auditing? Why did you choose that field of study?
MW Answer: I completed my undergraduate degree in financial science. My first initial choice was accounting and I was accepted for both options, but I quickly realised that if I want to succeed in my sport and academics I would need to find a balance and I choose to change to financial sciences. This I believe was a degree that gave me enough time to train and compete. In the final year of my degree, we had internal auditing as a module, and I found it very interesting. It was the part of being able to investigate into matters that made me choose internal auditing.
Obzeva.co.za: TUKS is a well-respected institution when it comes to their sports programs. How has being at TUKS helped your Judo?
MW Answer: I attended TuksSport High school, where I choose judo as my sport. TuksSport helped me achieve great sport achievements whilst still being able to manage my schoolwork. They open doors for me to be a part of the University of Pretoria and being accepted as a student to study for a degree. TuksSport has given me many opportunities to grow myself into the person I am today. They had supported me with my studies and my sport career. TUKS has helped me travel to camps and competitions and given me a great coach who has helped me to become African champion. TUKS has become a home away from home.
Obzeva.co.za: As a young woman in South Africa, how do you think the sport of Judo has helped you in other areas of your life?
MW Answer: Judo has taught me many lessons that I used in my life. Judo is a respectable sport where we learn many important values, for example punctuality and discipline. These values I will be able to use for the rest of my life. I have never been in a situation where I had to use judo to defend myself, but I believe that I would be able to do that with the skills of self-defence I have grasped over the years.
Obzeva.co.za: What do you think needs to be done to promote Judo as a sport in South African?
MW Answer: We need to grow the sport, by making people aware of what judo is. As mentioned, people always name karate when we speak about judo and that has to be stopped. Judo is an amazing sport and I would love to see more young people join the sport. Judo needs to be part of school activities or sports that learners can choose from to participate in.
Obzeva.co.za: How are you coping with the COVID-19 pandemic? As an athlete how have you managed to keep fit physically with these lock-down restrictions?
MW Answer: The lockdown was a great way to see how one can gain some good weight. My coach sent out programs in a weekly basis depending on the equipment we had at home or the access we had to a gym or field. It was very difficult to keep up with the program and do everything exactly as planned. When I returned from the lockdown to my daily training, I couldn’t cope. It took me 3 weeks to get back into the routine of training 4-5 hours a day. It was fun to see how I could manage to train with the home-made equipment and to also have my family join in on most of my sessions.
Obzeva.co.za: You were well on your way to realising your dream of representing South Africa at the Tokyo Olympics. But that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How have these events affected you mentally, and how have you managed to stay motivated?
MW Answer: I believe that God gave me a chance to improve my position in the world of judo. I was given a second chance to qualify the way I have dreamt of and that I am grateful for. In the beginning I was heart-broken about the situation but later on I realised that it was actually something I needed. I have my family, friend, teammates, coach and the rest of the South African judo community that believes in me and that gives me strength to carry on and achieve my goal.
Obzeva.co.za: What is your most favourite movie of all time?
MW Answer:” Colombiana”. This movie has parts where I can relate myself to. This young girl had to grow up without her parents and she had to make important decisions to stay alive. As I had to leave home at the age of 14 years to stay in a hostel away from my family. I had to grow up fast and make decisions that can help me succeed in life. She had a mission to complete to take away the pain of losing her parents and she trained for it from a young age. I believe I have been training from a young age for my goal even when I didn’t believe in myself that I will make it. In the end, she is happy with her mission.
Obzeva.co.za: What is your all-time favourite cheat meal?
MW Answer: Spicy hot wings. I love dunked wings but the wings from Chicken Licken is the real fire one.
Obzeva.co.za: Have you started with your pre-season training?
MW Answer: Covid-19 has changed plans dramatically and competitions were cancelled or moved to later dates. This made my training and competition plan change as well. Where I would rest for holidays to be with family, I had to cut the holiday very short and return to train again. I am now busy with basic preparation/ pre-season training for my competitions coming up.
Obzeva.co.za: When will you be competing next?
MW Answer: I will be competing in March, that gives me one month to prepare like never before.
Obzeva.co.za: What are your personal targets for 2021?
MM Answer: I want to be in the top 28 of the world ranking and qualify directly for the Olympic Games 2021. I want to make a name for myself in the international circuit and not only be known for winning in Africa.
Obzeva.co.za: Before I let you go, any final thoughts
MM Answer: I have heard many stories of how tough this journey can be, and at times I was wondering if they were exaggerating about the situations they are explaining. Until I got to step in their shoes. This path is not easy at all. You have less time for your family and friends and that makes this a very lonely journey for you. I am lucky to have my boyfriend, my family and friends, that supports me even though they are many kilometres away. I am blessed with love.
Obzeva.co.za: How can people follow or contact you for more information about the sport?
MM Answer: They can follow me on Facebook @Michaela Whitebooi and Instagram @geronay48