South Africa: the story of Milo Pillay, the strongman who raised the bar for South African sport
There is a vast international literature on sports under aside. Yet there is hardly any scholarship on the history of black South African weightlifting from earlier periods, which were also marked by racial, class and gender discrimination.
As part of the effort to fill this gap, I have explored the sport of organized weightlifting; and how it emerged in South Africa from physical culture. This term refers to activities to strengthen the body, improve physique and health, increase endurance, fight aging, and become a better athlete.
An important figure in this story is the physical culturalist of South African origin Coomerasamy Gauesa (Milo) Pillay. He made a special contribution to the development of South African sport from 1920 to 1982 and to society more broadly as a community worker. He promoted physical culture and weightlifting and was a weightlifting champion himself. It was a time when racial discrimination and segregation in South Africa was the order of the day, affecting sport participation at the local, national and international levels.
An exploration of Pillay’s life dispels the notion of strongmen (as the early weightlifters and bodybuilders were called) as lacking in political agency. Pillay was one of the first black sports administrators to engage the official South African Olympic authorities and has shown a subtle, but very effective agitation.
Through his efforts and those of others, black South African weightlifters later gained visibility in the outside world. These included Denis brutus, Chris de Broglio, Reg Hlongwane and CK (leader) Rangasamy.
Who was Milo Pillay?
Pillay was born in Queenstown, South Africa, in 1911 or 1910 (sources differ) and died in Melbourne, Australia, in 1994.
In his public political life, Pillay continued the traditional form of black liberal protest by projecting an image of non-politics and writing letters to the government and white sports officials. In 1945, for example, he attended a national weightlifting conference for whites in what was then Transvaal province and attempted to raise the color bar. Here he appealed to the goodwill of officials to allow the weightlifters to compete across the color line. It sounded like his actions in community affairs, where he tried to change aspects of black community life by staying on good terms with sympathetic elites of the ruling class.
Pillay’s life is important to the history of South African sport in four particular ways. First, Denis brutus, the anti-apartheid sports activist, said it was possible that the non-racial sports movement in South Africa started with Pillay in 1936.
Second, Pillay facilitated the transition from physical culture to weightlifting by performing on stage performing scientific lifts as well as feats of strength. While Hendrik Cornelius Tromp van Diggelen portrayed in the Eugene Sandow image of gladiator sandals and leopard skins, Pillay showed up in the George hackenschmidt mold of the versatile athlete champion. But he retained elements of the traditional physical culturalist by being a vegetarian, tea lover, non-smoker, and a believer in sunbathing, fresh air, and cold swimming.
Third, Pillay’s biography challenges the white monopoly on weightlifting the story in South Africa. With this in mind, Oliver Clarence Oehley is generally described as “the father of South African weightlifting”.
Fourth, Pillay’s political actions highlighted the nuanced nature of black resistance to institutionalized racism.
Pioneer of weightlifting
Pillay said he started training in 1920, with train rails and two 50-pound block weights used for scales, after witnessing Herman Goernerfeats of strength in the circus and watched Elmo Lincoln in the movie Tarzan of the Apes.
He achieved South Africa’s strongest youth title in 1928, which he retained until 1932. The following year he established the non-racial Apollo Weightlifting School in Port Elizabeth (now ‘hui Gqeberha). In 1933 it was known as the Herculean Weightlifting and Physical Culture Club. It was the first weightlifting club in Port Elizabeth and was affiliated with the International Health and Strength League.
Indicating Pillay’s growing stature, the following year the club was renamed Milo Academy. From there emerged the Eastern Province Weightlifting Union and the South African Weightlifting Federation in the 1930s. Confirming the academy’s long-term effects, the Cape Town weekly, the Sun , said that by 1951 he had trained “over 7,000 men and women of all nationalities”, including 400 men in the South African Air Force.
In 1933 and 1934, Pillay won the national weightlifting championships and was a finalist in 1935. Although he retired from active weightlifting in 1935 with a muscle tear in his leg, he was appointed technical advisor. of the Eastern Province Weightlifting Union. According to information published in Superman magazine in 1938 and the Sun in 1951, he was selected to represent South Africa in an international weightlifting competition in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) as an athlete. official Springbok (national) in 1937.
Pillay emigrated to Australia in 1982 at the age of 70, leaving behind a fitness club in Port Elizabeth called the Toynbee Club. Most importantly, he also left a legacy by helping to formalize weightlifting in Port Elizabeth, including international sports figures. Ron eland and Dennis Brutus developed. Commonwealth of South African weightlifting champion Mona Pretorius also comes from Port Elizabeth. These athletes and administrators probably would not have succeeded without the contributions of Milo Pillay.