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South Africans gear up for unique experience

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Sports Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange (centre) watches as South African athlete Keamogetsue Segaole gives a brief cultural display, upon arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport yesterday. The group is here to observe the GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships, which will start at the National Stadium tomorrow. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
South African Olympian Geraldine Pillay

Robert Bailey, Gleaner Writer

A 32-member South African delegation, headed by Olympian Geraldine Pillay, arrived in the island on Monday to attend the historic 100th staging of the ISSA Boys and Girls' Championships, which begins today at the National Stadium.

The delegation, which comprises students from Willow Ridge High school in South Africa, will be guests of the Jamaican Govern-ment. They were met on their arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport by Sports Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange.

Pillay is no stranger to Jamaica as she had lived and trained here in 2007 with the MVP track team.

Pillay, who was appointed director and coach of Willow Ridge last year, said they are looking forward to a wonderful Champs experience.

"In 2007, I was fortunate enough to attend the Boys and Girls' Championships and while I was sitting there I saw a plethora of talent," she said.

"I thought to myself that one day when I am involved with high school athletes I would love them to come and experience the Boys and Girls' Championships," said Pillay, who won the silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

"I don't want them to just experience the vibes around it, but the preparations that go into it - on the track and off the track - and also the kind of world class performances that these athletes produce," Pillay said. "They are also going to get an opportunity to meet the world's best athletes from Jamaica."

Pillay added: "I would have loved to bring them for the last Gibson Relays for an opportunity to compete but unfortunately, due to our season it was not possible. But I am thinking for 2011 and 2012 to bring them to the Gibson Relays to compete."


Meanwhile, Grange said the visit of the South African contingent for the championships will help to strengthen Jamaica's ties with the African nation.

"The continent of Africa and Jamaica's bond has to continue to strengthen because we do not have enough visits and exchanges between us and so this is a part of the deliberate efforts to strengthen those ties," said Grange.

"This is a wonderful feeling and for them, coming to a country that is predominantly black and a country that has excelled in track and they themselves as students at an institution that focuses so much on sports, it's like coming to the fountain," Grange said.