By Ron Jackson
One of South Africa’s most decorated amateur boxers, Daan Bekker, has died in Pretoria at the age of 77 after a long struggle against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Daan came from an outstanding family. All his brothers and their sister represented South Africa in sport.
Born Daniel Wepener Bekker in Dordrecht in the Eastern Cape on February 19, 1932, Daan boxed for the police force and won the SA amateur heavyweight title six times between 1952 and 1959.
He won his first Springbok blazer in 1956 when he was selected to represent South Africa in the heavyweight division at the Olympics Games in Melbourne, Australia.
He had a bye in the first elimination round and in his first fight he stopped Jose S Giorgetti of Argentina in the opening round to go through to the semifinals.
However, after having his American opponent Pete Rademacher down for a count in the first round, Bekker was stopped in the third, winning the bronze medal.
At the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Wales, Bekker stopped S Renaud of Canada and Gbadgesin Salawu from Nigeria before going into the final where he beat England’s Dave Thomas on points to take the gold medal.
After representing South Africa against a touring team from Ireland in 1959, Bekker went on to the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
In his first fight, he knocked out Wladislaw Jedrzejewski of Poland in the first round. He repeated the feat in his second fight when he knocked out Obrad Stetenovic from Yugoslavia in the opening round.
In his third fight, he outpointed the German Gunter Siegmund after having his opponent down in the first and second rounds.
In the heavyweight final Bekker met Italy’s Francesco de Piccoli who knocked the South African down at the start of the first round.
Bekker never recovered from the knockdown and after a series of blows he was counted out on his feet, settling for a silver medal.
Shortly after his return from the Games, Bekker made his professional debut on November 29, 1961 with a first-round technical knockout over David Hamman.
In only his third professional fight, he won the vacant SA heavyweight title when he knocked out Jan Scheepers in the sixth round.
After making a successful defence against Stoffel Willemse he was stopped in seven by Mike Holt in a non-title fight.
In a return match with Willemse in January 1963, Bekker lost the title after going down in the seventh round.
Bekker retired from the ring after this fight but made a comeback in September 1968 when he beat Tommy Miller over four rounds to finish with a professional record of six wins, two losses and a draw, with four wins inside the distance.
Daan’s style was never suited to the professional ranks but he will always be remembered for his outstanding achievements as an amateur. His brothers Jaap, Martiens and Dolf played rugby for South Africa and their sister Corrie was a Springbok athlete.