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December 31, 2009 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-12-31

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A Boot Against from page 31

"We all had a sense of the difficulties
of our new democracy and its politics,
but we were rugby players who wanted
to play the game on a world stage
Stransky says of the 1995 championship.
"We understood that we had responsi-
bilities toward the political sensitivities,
but it was not our main focus.
"We watched through the tournament
as the support base of the Springboks
grew and how it became more multi-
cultural: he says, "but it was only really
sometime after the World Cup that we
realized the actual significance."
With South Africa hosting its first
World Cup, with the less-experienced
Springboks unexpectedly reaching
the championship game, with South
Africans' interest mounting in the days
before the game, the final was played
in Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium,
packed with more than 60,000 scream-
ing fans.
Stransky says he didn't notice the
"You're so focused" on the game, he
says."You're so focused on what happens
between the four [boundary] lines:
In a scene Stranksy says is portrayed
accurately in Invictus, Mandela visits the
team's locker room and tells the play-
ers the entire country is behind them.
Then, in a gesture that helped define
his early presidency, he walks onto the
rugby pitch before the game to screams
of "Nelson! Nelson!" He is wearing a
Springboks cap and a Springboks jersey.
"He got the mood right. It was so
inspirational: Stransky says in Carlin's
book. "I would have thought it was
completely impossible to cup) the feelings
amongst us before the game, but Madiba
did. He 'upped' us even further:
Madiba is Mandela's tribal, Xhosa
name by which he is popularly known in
South Africa.
"I've spent some time with Nelson
Mandela: Stransky says. "I know how
smart he is:
The Springboks were outplayed much
of the game. With Stransky scoring,
they rallied to tie the game at the end of
regulation time. With about seven min-
utes left in extra time, the ball came to
Stransky. From 35 yards away, at a slight
angle to the right, "it's definitely not a
gimme Stransky says.
"Joel collects and strikes the most
perfect drop goal: Pienaar writes in
his autobiography, Rainbow Warrior
(Collin.sWillow, 1999)."It soars higher
than the uprights, but passes between
them." Then the game is over. "Our lives
change forever. We are world champions:
Stransky's favorite memory from the
game was Mandela's exuberance after-
wards,"the joy on his face:

No. 10: Joel Stransky

The players were feted at a black-
tie banquet that night. The next day,
Stransky went to his brother's wedding.
His value on the rise, he played profes-
sional rugby in England for three years,
suffered a knee injury, retired from the
sport at 31, "moonlighted" as a TV com-
mentator for a while, and then went into
the sports marketing business.
"Business is my focus;' he says. "You
see sportsmen who don't move on:
who keep trying to relive past glories.
Stransky says there's "absolutely noth-
ing" from the World Cup game in his
office — the only sign there of his
athletic past is a bottle of wine from a
long-ago celebration. "I don't want to just
trade on something I did 15 years ago:
Stransky still plays veterans league
rugby. One day, he says, he'd like to
become a coach.
Fifteen years later, South Africa is still a
work-in-progress, he says. Reconciliation
between whites and blacks is not corn-
plete."This is not an easy process for the
bulk of our country. [It] will take years
before the legacy of the past is truly
behind us," Stransky says.
"The rugby World Cup played a role
for a period and laid some sort of a
foundation that future sporting events
could follow in terms of uniting a divid-
ed nation:
In any case, Invictus will refresh
South Africans' memory of No. 10 and
his performance in the World Cup
championship. "I am remembered
predominantly for the drop goal, but I
like to think of myself as much more
a complete player than just a kicker of
the ball: Stransky says.
He wants his legacy to go beyond
sports, he says. "I have the most wonder-
ful family. For the last two years I have
successfully run a $150 million com-
pany, and next year I am doing an ultra-
mountain bike race to raise more money
for charity"
Sports, Stransky says, gave him his
initial fame. But he's moved on. "I did so
much more:'

Invictus is currently in theaters.

"Grape Leaves have brought
much neighborhood

-Danny Raskin


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