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Highveld looks to put Western Cape in its place at arm-wrestling champs

The South African Arm Wrestling Federation (SAAF) will host its National Arm Wrestling Championships on 28 and 29 June in Paarl.

With over 120 athletes registered to compete, the 2024 event will be the biggest national championships in 22 years of organised arm wrestling in South Africa.

The competition will be hosted by Klein Parys Vineyards – marking the first time the national championships are taking place in the Western Cape.

The rise of the South

For years the sport has been dominated by athletes from the Highveld. In a short space of time, the Western Cape has put itself on the arm-wrestling map and grown from two clubs to eight since 2022, including two clubs in the Cape Winelands.

“At last year’s Nationals in Tshwane a large Cape contingent travelled to compete,” said Jaco Botma, Chairperson of SAAF’s Western Cape chapter.

“It was the first Nationals after Covid-19 and our athletes were unknown, but they did very well.”

“There were some upsets for sure, and this year the Highveld guys want to get their own back.”

The new rivalry between the Western Cape and the Highveld has also exhibited different experience levels. Image: Charlotte Manicom

Another knock-on effect of Covid-19 lockdown measures was fans of popular sporting codes being diverted to the ‘smaller sports’ that are less dependent on arenas.

As such, strength sports and martial arts really benefited, including arm wrestling.

Reflecting on the sport’s growth in the Western Cape, SAAF President Rosemary Botha said the rise of the sport in South Africa reflects its unprecedented growth globally.

“From Bonteheuwel to Mossel Bay, the sport, which combines strength, speed and technical proficiency, has never been this accessible,” she said.

Other factors driving the sport’s growth include the low cost of entry and its family-oriented nature. It is also open to all genders of all ages, as well as sportspeople with disabilities.

Arm wrestling athletes medal at Africa games

2024 has been a landmark year for South African arm wrestling for other reasons. For the first time, South African arm wrestlers represented South Africa at the Africa Games, in Accra, Ghana, and bagged three medals.

Limpopo-based Ruan Bronkhorst won silver on both the left and right arm in the men’s +100kg division, while Gauteng-based Meri Prinsloo took bronze on the left in the women’s +80kg division.

Both Bronkhorst and Prinsloo are now looking to establish their dominance at the national level in Paarl this weekend.

SAAF says that arm wrestling has never been this accessible in South Africa. Image: Charlotte Manicom

Age before beauty

The north versus south rivalry has another enticing element, and that is one based on experience.

The world’s top arm wrestling influencers have won social media followings in the hundreds of thousands, sending huge numbers of especially younger athletes in search of their nearest arm wrestling club.

“There’s a generational thing going on here,” said Naeema Jackson, a member of the Heideveld-based Cape Viperz club.

“The guys from up north are older – they were inspired by that Sylvester Stallone movie, Over the Top.”

“Our guys are mostly in their 20s, and they’re motivated by the current top arm wrestlers, like Canada’s Devon Larrat, and the east European champs. They’re all over YouTube.”

The full event will be live streamed from 11h00 on Friday 28 June, and 09h00 on Saturday here.

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