Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Van Stadens

Pg11, The van Stadens'

MANY Rhodesians brought distinction to the nation as amateur boxers, but none more so than the 'Fighting Van Stadens' — brothers Pieter and Jaggie.

It was southpaw Pieter, Rhodesian born and the idol of crowds in his home town of Bulawayo, who recorded Rhodesia's greatest boxing triumph at the 1954 Empire and Commonwealth Games at Vancouver, Canada.

At the age of only eighteen, the Bulawayo steelworker won the Gold Medal in the lightweight division in a bruising final against Frank McQuillan of Scotland. In being crowned Empire champion Van Staden brought home the country's proudest boxing prize. In fact, in the history of Rhodesian sport only one other man attained a Commonwealth Games Gold — bowler Ralph Hodges who won the singles at Vancouver in 1954.

All three boxers in Rhodesia's Vancouver Games team came from the renowned stable of trainer Herbie Smith at the North End club at Bulawayo. The other two were bantamweight Gordon Smith and light-welterweight Aubrey Harris.

Smith, the 'baby' of the team, established a unique record. After being picked for the Games team at the age of sixteen he went to the South African junior championships and won the title. But he turned the regulation minimum of seventeen required for the Games only twenty-one days before the great event.

The South African junior champion from 1951-54, and winner of the best boxer's cup at the 1954 championships at Port Elizabeth, Smith distinguished himself by winning the Silver Medal at Vancouver, being unlucky not to emulate Van Staden.

In the final he met John Smiley of Scotland, who was to go on and win the British Empire flyweight title. When Smiley was announced as the winner, the crowd booed for a long while in sympathy with the talented young Rhodesian, who felt that had he had the inspiration of his trainer Herbie Smith in his corner he would have won.

Harris (21) brought further honour to Rhodesia by likewise making the light- welterweight final, taking the Silver Medal when he lost to Canada's Mickie Bergin. This meant that all three Rhodesians had won through to the finals — their two Silvers and a Gold making these the most spectacular successes in the history of the country's boxing.

But it was a younger Van Staden, Jaggie, who was to emerge later as Rhodesia's greatest post-war amateur boxer. Although he never emulated his brother in winning a Gold Medal at any of the Games he was to forge a distinguished all-round career which was to make him the biggest draw card in the country's boxing.

Jurgens John (Jaggie) Van Staden was bom at Bulawayo on 14 January 1942 and attended Newmansford Junior School and Northlea High School.

From the age of eight his boxing career was shaped by that doyen of trainers. Herbie Smith, at the North End club which produced a string of champions over the years. For the first four years, Jaggie boxed in many small junior tournaments before his career began in earnest as a thirteen-year-old in 1955. Between 1955-60 he had forty-three amateur fights, winning them all — eighteen inside the distance. Among his successes up to that time were the South African junior featherweight title in East London (1956) and the most outstanding boxer award in the 1957 South African junior championships at Port Elizabeth, where he beat Transvaal's T. Theron on a TKO in the final.

Next year (1958), he again won the best boxer's cup in South Africa beating Jannie Pieterse of Alberton in a close final at Pretoria. A two-fisted fury with all the technical expertise, Jaggie quickly gained recognition as Southern Africa's nearest to Springbok marvel Grant Webster.

It was also in 1958 that Jaggie (who beat Reg Gaskon in the semifinals) won his first South African senior title as a lightweight at Durban at the age of sixteen. Thus, in the same year as winning the South African junior title and the best boxer's cup, he recorded the unique feat of winning the South African senior title and the best boxer's cup in his very first senior championships. It is a record still unmatched to hold both senior and junior titles and both best boxer's cups in the same year.

In 1959, Jaggie impressively beat South African light-welterweight title holder H. Finlay of Defence to take his second South African senior crown. After this, the eighteen-year-old apprentice motor mechanic was asked to join twenty three other Springbok possibles for a week's training at Pretoria.

His selection was a formality and on 26 September 1959 he became Rhodesia's first boxing Springbok when he fought in the international against Ireland at Johannesburg. In a light-welterweight bout. Van Staden made it a winning debut with a points victory over twenty-year-old Belfast boy Sean Brown.

Four days later, Ireland beat Rhodesia 6-4 at Bulawayo, but Van Staden kept his unbeaten record with a points win over Bernard Meli. Van Staden was unimpressive for the first two rounds, but with the third round came vintage Van Staden as he hammered out victory with a masterly display of methodical destruction.

Chosen for the 1960 Olympic Games at Rome for his first trip outside Africa, great hopes were pinned on the untamed Rhodesian for a medal But when representing the then Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Van Staden was to taste his first defeat when the referee stopped his fight against Sayed el Nahas of Egypt after 2 min. 35 sec. of the second round. A clubbing right swing that landed behind his ear was to dash the Rhodesians hopes. It dropped him for a count of
eight and the contest was stopped as he staggered to his feet. It had been a quiet bout until then, with the nineteen-year-old Van Staden, possibly suffering from nerves, never getting going.

Van Staden returned home to revive his reputation with a close points win over William 'Boela' Meyers in a light-welterweight contest between Matabeleland and the Booysens Club from Johannesburg in June 1961. Meyers had won the Bronze Medal as a featherweight at the Rome Olympics. He gained revenge over the Rhodesian in October that same year with a narrow semifinal win in the South African championships at Kimberley in the light welterweight division.

It was Van Staden's second loss but by September 1962 he had taken his record to fifty-six victories in sixty fights. He won the Empire Games trial, in conjunction with the Federal championships at Bulawayo (he took the welter-weight title) and was chosen for the Rhodesian team to go to the 1962 Empire and Commonwealth Games at Perth.

By general acclaim Jaggie was expected to go close to the Gold Medal if he could avoid early confrontation with Scotland's Golden Olympian Dick McTaggart. But again his ambition to win an international title was to be shattered. The twenty- year-old fair-haired Rhodesian lost on a third round TKO to hard-punching Clement Quartey of Ghana in the light-welterweight division. Quartey, an Olympic Silver Medallist, caught Van Staden with a stunning right in the opening round to force a compulsory count of eight. Van Staden then seemed to have the Ghanaian's measure, but in the third round he was caught by a heavy right which ended the fight.

On his return from Perth, Van Staden asked to be excluded from the Springbok trials as he wanted to rest from the sport. He had trained hard for twelve long years and had earned recognition as one of Southern Africa's finest boxers. Now he had had enough and was content to end his career and retire.


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