Jody Williams, 21, and Darren Lakey, 21, were selected for the University Sport South Africa (USSA) team to participate in the kumite, while their teammate Lyndon Bailey, 20, will compete in kata.
All three train under the watchful eye of Michael du Plessis, a respected karate instructor with tons of experience at international level. Despite the students’ lack of international experience, Du Plessis says: “They are the most talented individuals I have worked with and no other athletes in the country are working at the level they are working at right now.”
Williams, a Sports Science Honours student from Athlone, was a bronze medallist at the African Championships in 2017 and 2018.
“I have competed in a few international events and recently competed in Egypt just to get exposure to the international level because it's highly important to stay in the game,” he says. “Representing my university, my community and my country internationally is an honour, as not many people are able to get to this level.”
Bailey, a second-year law student, is a four-time national champion and was the 2019 Western Cape sportsman of the year for karate. He received his Protea colours when he competed in the Region Five Championships in Namibia in 2019. He took gold in kata in all his competitions between 2019 and 2021.
He says he experienced bullying growing up in Elsies River and it led him to karate at a young age.
“What has kept me going in the sport is consistently trying to be a better version of myself, to always improve when competing so I can be able to produce a medal for South Africa. With these guys in my team and our coach, it is very much possible. We put in the work and we believe in each other,” says Bailey.
Sports Science student, Lakey, who is from Brackenfell, won his provincial colours as a 13-year-old and his Protea colours in 2018 when he competed in Botswana.
“We stand a very good chance because we are working with one of the best coaches in Africa in Michael. With him in our team, we expect to perform very well,” he says.
International karate is highly competitive and only the very best even make it to the championships, let alone return with medals. With so many talented karateka in the past not making it to the international scene, the trio’s selection is already affirmation of their talent and has the potential to inspire other students to take up the sport.