April 13 2007 at 04:38AM
Springbok wing Bryan Habana has been humbled by a little-known three-year-old at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre.
Habana, a self-confessed speed junkie with a passion for movies like The Fast And The Furious, found himself in the slow lane yesterday when the cheetah, named Cetane, effortlessly tore past the man dubbed the fastest player in the Super 14 in an exhibition race.
A bashful Habana said afterwards that he "always knew" he didn't stand a chance of winning the publicity-stunt race.
However, a directive from his insistent father, Bernie, that his son test his mettle against yet another cheetah - after losing to the first early yesterday morning - was an indication that he had at least toyed with the idea of winning.
The rugby star almost walked away victorious, but Cetane effortlessly pipped Habana a few metres from the 100m finish line - after the Springbok had been given a 30m head start.
The beautiful Cetane has been named after a "power ingredient" in a new type of diesel from the laboratory of Sasol Chevron - the company to which Thursday's event was dedicated.
It has agreed to sponsor a groundbreaking tracking study by the De Wildt centre to scientifically determine how many cheetahs are left in the country. It is estimated that only 1 350 remain.
Habana said the race had been "quite nerve-racking", but he was proud to be involved in a project that could ensure his "kids' kids" have a chance of enjoying the majestic animal in the wild.
However, besides official photographers, only CNN and VIP guests were allowed to film the race, forcing the rest of the media to watch proceedings from the stands.
Habana's father denied afterwards that his camp was in any way responsible for the tight publicity restrictions, but added that they were necessary to ensure the footage's "proper dissemination to the world".
Some animal right activists were not pleased about the exhibition, saying it amounted to "exploitation of the worse kind".
Steve Smit, of Animal Rights Africa, said De Wildt's event had succeeded in turning the animals into a "commodity".
This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on April 13, 2007