High jump champ Claudine soared above adversity  

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BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS

This is the first chapter of a two-part series about the multi-talented Claudine Fisher of South Peninsula Amateur Athletics Club (and Crestway High School).

LIFE, at times, presents a second chance to prove oneself at the highest level.

Patrick Dowman found this out when in 1975, he lost the boys under 17 high jump event at the inter-house athletics meetings to a schoolmate at Livingstone High School. Dowman was moved up to the Boys Open where he capitalised on his opportunity and won the event at the Champion of Champions with a height of 1,88m to become the joint record-holder with Michael Finn of Belgravia High School.

Patrick Dowman of Livingstone High School was another high jumper who seized a second opportunity to prove himself at the event.

In 1978, he would become the first high jumper in Sacos to clear two metres.

It’s a story Claudine Fisher (married Claassen) of Crestway High School can relate to.

Girls open

“I had lost to the school’s best high jumper in the girls’ under 17 age group in 1987. Although we had cleared the same height, her popularity at the school gave her the edge and she was allowed to jump in the under 17 age group and I was moved up to the girls’ open.”

Fisher had arrived on the athletics scene against all expectations to set up a South African Senior Schools’ Sports Union (SASSSA) record in the girls’ open high jump event.

Champion of Champions

She and Anuschka Govender of Transvaal shared the record of 1,63m when the SASSSA Championships was held in Paarl in 1987.

Being younger than the rest of the girls in the open section, Fisher wasn’t at all overawed by her competitors as she went on to win the girls’ open high jump event at the Champion of Champions at the Athlone Stadium in Cape Town.

Claudine Fisher, Mohamed Shaik (top high jump coach from Rylands High School) and Anuschka Govender of Transvaal.

“Despite being the youngest competitor in my age group, to everyone and my own surprise, I qualified for the Champ of Champs and made it into the WPSSSU (Western Province Senior Schools’ Sports Union) team as well as the SASSSA team. This was where I started to believe that I might be good,” she remembers.  She was just 16, jumping in the girls’ open competition.

Representing SASSSA

She competed again in the girls’ open section in 1988, and again she won at the Champion of Champions.

She twice represented SASSSA at the South African Amateur Athletics Board’s Prestige Meeting.

Fisher’s other loves were modern dancing and gymnastics but she had to give up the two disciplines to focus on athletics and netball.

Evan Abrahams

Fisher attended Sibelius Junior Secondary School and it was here where her teacher Mr Evan Abrahams introduced her to high jump and the Dick Fosbury Flop. At first, she struggled to make her mark. But by the time she was in Std 8 (grade 10), she had caught up with the best girl’s high jumper at Crestway.

Teammates Ivan Hendricks, left, and Reggie Dreyer of South Peninsula Amateur Athletics Club.

Sibelius only had school up to Std 7 (grade 9).

Fisher wanted to further her high jump career by competing in more club competitions.

SP club

“The PT (physical training) teacher at Sibelius, Mr Reggie Dreyer introduced me to the South Peninsula Amateur Athletics Club. It was at the club where my high jump career took flight.   After joining the club, I became one of the top high jumpers in the Peninsula, both at schools and clubs. I managed to break the old South Peninsula Athletics club high jump record held by Annelise Meiring which stood there for a number of years. I also held the club long jump record.  Over the years as a member of this club, I received many awards. I also achieved my Western Province Club colours in high jump as well as South African Amateur Athletics Board colours under the banner of Sacos while at SP,” she says.

Best friend

Western Province club sprinter Nathan Sassman was her coach at SP.

“My coach was Mr Nathan Sassman. He was not just my coach, but my mentor and friend,” says Fisher.

SASSSA high jumpers Tania Brown, left, and Claudine Fisher.

Her friends at the time were the irrepressible Tania Brown, Cheryl October, Clyde van Graan, Clive Doren, Stephen Cloete and Deon Hugo.

“My best friend was Tania Brown (Hess). She was simply in a class of her own.  She was the only competitor who was a hard nut to crack.  She just could not be beaten. But we always had each other’s back.  Even though we competed against each other, we would still motivate one another during the competition.  People couldn’t understand how we could do that,” says Fisher who herself was a SASSSA champ and record holder.

At Crestway, Ronald Williams was her best buddy.

Battling demons

Her success in the sport did not come easy.

She was one of eight siblings and her father had his own demons to battle.

“My father was a drunkard and sometimes I was too shy to bring friends home. Despite his flaws, he was a disciplinarian and instilled moral values in me.  He taught me to share and care.  My mom was the breadwinner,” says Fisher.

  • Next week Athletics Clipboard brings you part two:  Claudine casts her mind back to the  ‘Olympics of the Oppressed’

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