2019 year in review: Outstanding sportsperson of the year

Sportsperson of the year – South African sport has enjoyed mixed returns in 2019 from the highs of the Rugby World Cup and our netball team’s exploits to the lows of the Cricket World Cup and a disappointing IAAF World Championships.

The outstanding South African sportsperson of the year should be someone who reflects the spirit of triumph through adversity.

There have been a clutch of sportspeople who have overcome terrific odds to achieve their successes in 2019, but one has stood out.

Makazole Mapimpi is our 2019 sportsperson of the year

Just a few short years ago, Makazole Mapimpi’s dream of playing rugby professionally appeared to be in tatters. At the end of 2019, Mapimpi had scored 14 tries in 14 Springbok Tests and scored a brace for the Barbarians at Twickenham.

Mapimpi ended the Rugby World Cup with the second-most tries after crossing the whitewash six times, including his historic try in the final against England.

Possessing all the qualities of a top winger, Mapimpi is big and fast and has an eye for the whitewash, but he has worked hard on his game to become a more rounded player in 2019.

Criticism of Mapimpi had centred around defensive issues, kicking ability and contests in the air, but he proved his doubters wrong in 2019. Mapimpi’s scrambling cover defense saved the Boks’ bacon on a few occasions in the Rugby World Cup and Rugby Championship and his try in the final was scored after he put in a deft chip ahead.

Mapimpi missed out on honours from World Rugby, but cleaned house at the Sharks’ end-of-year awards and is set to be a big part of the Durban-based franchise’s 2020 Super Rugby campaign.

A hero for the rural Eastern Cape

One of the things that stands out about the career of Mapimpi is that he didn’t attend one of South Africa’s big rugby schools, but was still able to find a way to the top.

He said after the Rugby World Cup that he hopes his story will inspire children from rural areas to reach for their dreams and to persevere in achieving their goals. Mapimpi also hopes his success will convince sponsors and administrators to cast their net wider in the search for rugby talent.

“We need sponsors to develop rugby in places outside cities. I am saying this because it is difficult for young people who live outside cities. There is talent out there, all we need is to have proper systems in place to unearth it. It’s tough playing rugby in East London because even the Border Bulldogs have got no sponsors.

“To people playing rugby in rural areas, I would like to encourage them to focus on the game just like I did. I have set an example that you can succeed even if you come from humble beginnings,” Mapimpi said during the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour in East London.

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Sportsperson of the year: Springbok wing Makazole Mapimpi scores a try during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between Japan and South Africa at the Tokyo Stadium, in Tokyo, on 20 October 2019. Photo: Behrouz Mehri / AFP

Mapimpi’s desire to constantly learn and improve has been praised by his coaches from his time at the Kings through to the Sharks and the Boks, and he can lay claim to the title of the most improved player in South African Rugby in recent years.

He put in the hard yards this year to unseat his Sharks teammate Sbu Nkosi from the Bok XV and maintain his place ahead of a large group of exciting South African outside backs.

Mapimpi’s Rugby World Cup tries headline his 2019, but his hard work and great attitude make him our 2019 sportsperson of the year.

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