Jenny Maakal - Olympic medallist

Jenny Genoveva Maakal (-Thomas)  was born in the Northern Transvaal mining town of Rayton, on August 2, 1913, and she died in Durban in 2002. Her swimming coach was Jimmy Green of Pretoria.

At the 1932 Olympic Games Jenny won the bronze medal in the women's 440 yards frerstyle - winning South Africa's first Olympic swimming medal. The race was won by American swimming legend Helen Madison with Lenore Knight taking the silver.

Already the winner of two gold medals at the Games, Helene Madison was the world record holder at this event and when the reigning Olympic silver medallist, Zus Braun, was forced to withdraw from competition, Madison's victory seemed to be assured.

The final turned out to be far closer than anybody anticipated and on a par with the men's event at the same games. For the majority of the race Madison and her team-mate, Lenore Kight, swam in procession, with Madison always holding a slender lead, but with 100 metres to go, Kight made her move and overtook Madison. Madison responded to Kight's efforts and the two women battled down their final length of the pool. Madison timed her finish well and touched the wall ahead of Kight, the clock showing a tenth of a second divided the two Americans with Jenny Maakal a full twenty seconds further back. Kight had a poor turning technique which may have contributed to her defeat.


The circumstances of Marie Braun's withdrawal due to illness are shrouded in mystery. By the time of the final the Dutchwoman was in hospital and seriously ill with blood poisoning after an infection officially caused by a mosquito bite. However Braun herself was convinced she was the victim of a deliberate attempt to remove her from contention as part of a possible betting coup. 

Jenny had the following podium finishes at major championships: 3rd in the 1932 Olympics 400 metres Freestyle; 2nd in the 1934 British Empire Games 4×110 yards Freestyle Relay (with Kathleen Russell and the non-Olympians Enid Hayward and Molly Ryde). In the 1930 British Empire Games she finished fifth in the 400 yards freestyle. 

It’s probably South Africa’s best-kept sporting secret, but our boxers have brought home the most Olympic medals; 18 in all, of which six were gold. In Antwerp in 1920, Clarence Walker won the country’s first gold medal in the bantamweight division. Four years later in Paris, Willie Smith took gold in the same division. Lightweight Laurie Stevens and light heavyweight Dave Carstens took gold in 1932, and it was on the way back from Los Angeles to Cape Town that they demonstrated the ultimate Olympic spirit towards team-mate, bronze medallist Jenny Maakal.


Lappe: “Her team mates could see she was not happy and they said, ‘What’s wrong with you, I mean you did wonderfully well, what’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘Look, I don’t think it was really worth it. My mother had to take a bond and we’re going to lose our house.’ And the two boxers, Dave Carstens and Laurie Stevens, they had both at that stage contracts, - professional contracts - and they could start boxing for money. But they said, ‘We’re not going to do that. We’re going to have tournaments and all of that money will be for you to give to your mother until she’s paid her bond back.’”

Jennie Maakal

deur Christo Maakal

Hier is iets wat ek ‘n paar jaar gelede oor Jennie Maakal geskryf het. 

Sy is 'n tannie van my (my pa se suster) en het behalwe suksesse by die destydse Rykspele, ook in 1932 te Los Angeles 'n bronsmedalje in die 400m vryslag behaal.  Sy het ook in die finaal van die 100m vryslag geswem.  Ek dink dat sy ook die laaste Suid-Afrikaanse vrou was wat voor WOll aan 'n item in die Olimpiese Spele deelgeneem het.  Die Suid-Afrikaanse Olimpiese Komitee het in 1936 besluit om geen vrouens in die span in te sluit nie!

Dis 'n tema wat ook sake vir Jennie Maakal bemoeilik het...
Jennie se ouers (my oupa en ouma aan vaderskant) het vanaf Nederland na die ou Transvaal gekom, soos so baie ander Nederlanders in die tydperk voor en na die 2de Anglo-Boere-oorlog.  'n Nuwe land en 4 kinders het hul eie uitdagings gestel en net nadat my oupa 'n aanstelling by die Normaalkollege gekry het, het hy onverwags gesterf.  Boonop het die Depressie aangebreek.

My weduwee-ouma het 'n onderwyspos by die Oost-Eind Skool in Pretoria gehad, maar vrouens is maar swak betaal.  Om te oorleef en die kinders van die nodige te voorsien, het sy ook smiddae en saans taalonderrig aan die kinders van ambassade-personeel verskaf, waarskynlik in Frans, Nederlands en Duits.

In die 20's en dertiger jare was swem 'n gunsteling tydverdryf onder jong mense in Pretoria, met meisies soos Zus Engelenberg, Freddie van der Goes,
Kathleen Russel, Mary Bedford en Rhoda Rennie wat uitgeblink het.  Die laaste 4 van hulle het in 1928 se Olimpiese Spele 'n bronsmedalje in die 4x100m vryslag aflos losgeswem.

Daar was in alle geval by baie mense die gevoel dat vrouens nie by die moderne Olimpiese Spele moet deelneem nie.  In 1932 was Jennie Maakal deur die Swemvereniging genomineer om aan die spele deel te neem  -  dink sy was hulle enigste nominasie  -  maar die S A Olimpiese Komitee wou nie vir haar betaal nie.  As sy wou gaan, moes sy self betaal.  My ouma moes 'n groot verband op hulle huis neem om die nodige fondse hiervoor te kry, wel wetend dat sy eintlik nie genoeg verdien om die terugbetalings te behartig nie.

Soos reeds gesê het Jennie toe in twee finales geswem en in een daarvan derde gekom.

Terug in Suid-Afrika het twee ander boksers, Dave Carstens en Laurie Stevens wat beide goue medaljes verwerf het, hulle toetrede tot die professionele bokskryt uitgestel en eers in die Johannesburgse stadsaal 'n vertoning aangebied waarvan die toegangsgeld gebruik is om die verband op die Maakals se huis terug te betaal.

Dit het lank voor my geboorte gebeur, maar ek raak nou nog emosioneel oor hierdie goedhartige daad van ware kameraadskap.