Birmingham – and history – beckon South Africa’s judo twins, Donné and Thomas

Birmingham – and history – beckon South Africa’s judo twins, Donné and Thomas
Pretoria-born twins judoka Donnè Thomas Breytenbach are aiming for a podium finish at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. Photo: Supplied

Twins Donné and Thomas Breytenbach will make history by becoming the first twins to represent South Africa at the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Each is itching to make their mark.

After an eight-year hiatus, judo – a mesmerising battle of confidence, tactics and skill – will return to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, keeping spectators on the edge of their seats with toppling competitors and explosive throws.

For South Africa the hope is that a pair of young but experienced judokas will be the ones to pin down all their opponents in a quest for gold and glory.

Tshwane-based Donné and Thomas Breytenbach have been practising the sport of judo since they were toddlers.

“When we were younger, around four or five years old, we were quite busy bodies. And we would sneak out of pre-primary school, because there was a dojo right next door,” Thomas told Daily Maverick.  

“We’d see all the older kids going [to the dojo] and we’d follow them. And we started doing judo that way… It would be during nap times for the younger kids. So, while they did that, we would go do the judo.”

Their secret was eventually brought to light when their coach at the dojo handed their father a bill for his services for the previous eight months. Needless to say, the Breytenbach patriarch and matriarch were not pleased.

“Louis Nolte, the coach, persuaded my dad to allow us to compete in one tournament and Donné and I both won. Somehow, that helped persuade our parents to let us continue our judo training,” Thomas, who competes in the under-90kg category, said.

More than a decade later, the 20-year-olds are on the cusp of history. 

World at their feet

When the Commonwealth Games kick off on 28 July in England, they will become the first twins to represent South Africa on that stage.

It is a prospect that the University of Pretoria students are looking forward to keenly.    

“It’s a privilege going to represent South Africa, especially when I get to do it with my brother,” Donné shared with Daily Maverick in response to how excited they are about their historic journey.

“It feels surreal from my side. I feel very honoured to be able to represent my country, especially so with my twin,” her brother added.

Thomas booked his ticket to Birmingham with a silver medal at the African Championships in Algeria back in May 2022. By then his sister had already clinched her spot in the quadrennial showpiece where athletes from former British empire territories duke it out.

In 2021, as a 19-year-old, Donné won silver in the under-57kg category at the African Championships in Dakar, Senegal. In November that year, she won gold at the African Open Tournament in Yaounde, Cameroon.

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The winning mentality they have forged in recent years has the twins dreaming of double judo joy in Birmingham.

“I’m definitely aiming to bring back a medal. Hopefully it’ll be gold. But I’m going there open-minded, going there to do my best. I’ll be proud either way,” Donné confidently told Daily Maverick.

Her brother shares her musings.  

“Likewise. It’s quite a difficult sport to compete in. Anything can happen on the day. But we definitely believe we have the ability to bring back a medal, if not gold,” added Thomas.

Honoured… and ready

The fact that the number of nations competing at the Games is limited according to the aforementioned criteria will boost the judokas’ prospect of making their dreams a reality. Not that they haven’t been putting in the work to make history.  

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“We feel on track physically. We are in good competing shape. And mentally as well – seeing psychologists and so on. But we feel ready to compete,” Thomas said.

“It [being at the Commonwealth Games] is a very large stepping stone towards our ultimate goal, which is the Olympic Games. It’s a massive stage, and we’re honoured to be competing there. Because it was a goal of ours to be able to represent our country at the Commonwealth Games.” DM


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