Caster, Wayde uncertainty casts shadow on SA athletics

As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games appears on the horizon, South African track-and-field fans are perched on the edge of their seats with the fitness or readiness of some of their favourites still under question.

03 January 2020 | Sports

SUPERSPORT

For years the sport relied heavily on the talents of Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk but both athletes missed the 2019 World Championships and there’s no word yet on what the future holds for them.

Van Niekerk is back in training and his #QuietStorm and #WaydeWasHere hashtags accompanying pictures of him in training is the only clue fans have been given that he’s close to a return.

But few sprinters have suffered his kind of knee injury never mind made a comeback from it has been too long since the 400m world record-holder was in action.

For Semenya, meanwhile, the situation is tricky. She’s been banned from competing in events between the distances of 400m to 1500m unless she agrees to take medication to lower her testosterone levels, pending an appeal at the Swiss Supreme Court.

Semenya has refused to take the medication and her appeal is set to go ahead early in 2020. In the meantime she has signed for the JVW Football Club but has been unable to play because of transfer rules.

With her team of lawyers hard at work behind the scenes, Semenya has had some time to spend with family and consider her options but the athletics season is underway soon.

The first Grand Prix Series meet is scheduled for 9 April in Cape Town with the second and third events taking place on 14 April in Pretoria and the 18 April Potchefstroom before the National Championships which is set for 23 to 25 April in Pretoria.

Aside from Semenya and Van Niekerk, sprinter Akani Simbine and the long jump duo of Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai are the other major hopes in track and field.

All three athletes have done consistently well in this cycle with Commonwealth Games medals, African Championship medals and top performances at the World Championships.

Simbine has broken 10 seconds in the 100m every season since 2015 and he placed fourth at the World Championship this year, just missing out on a medal.

Samaai and Manyonga were consistent in leaping over 8m this season but didn’t quite reach the 8.40s as they have before. Manyonga is adapting to a new coaching staff and base while Samaai competed with a niggling injury which required surgery at the end of the season.

All three athletes are expected to put in big performances next year. This is what they’ve been training for.

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?

As always, there’s a distinct lack of representation on the gender front. So where are the women? Well, there are only a handful of women who have a chance of making the Olympics squad and even fewer who have a real chance of making a final or getting a medal.

Aside from Semenya, only 10 other women have been included in the training squad for individual events and not all of them will be included in the final Olympics squad.

Tebogo Mamathu (100m), Dominique Scott-Efurd (10 000m), Rikenette Steenkamp (100m H), Wenda Nel (400m H), Rogail Joseph (400m H), Lynique Beneke (long jump), Sunette Viljoen (javelin), Gerda Steyn (marathon), Nolene Conrad (marathon) and Zeney van der Walt (400m H) complete the training squad.

Van der Walt is a Junior World Championships gold medallist in the 400m hurdles and one of the most exciting prospects for the future. She finished her matric this year and has completely turned her focus to Tokyo. She edged Wenda Nel to the national title this year and both of them are vying for a spot at the Olympics. Add to the same event youngster Rogail Joseph who is the Under-20 SA champion the race is on.

Javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen is included in the training squad, but she’s 36 years old and training without a coach. She also finished 17th at the World Championships so she’s way off her best.

Comrades winner Gerda Steyn is someone to watch in the marathon after she signalled her intention to run in Tokyo following her 11th place finish in the New York marathon this year.

There are young prospects in the likes of Clarence Munyai and Thando Dlodlo in the 100m and 200m as well as Soks Zazini in the 400m.

Zazini is a Under-18 and 20 gold medallist but he’s had to change coaches and he’s battled a range of back and hip injuries which aren’t completely sorted out.

There are a bunch of junior athletes who’ve done well as age-group level and we’ll have to see if they’re able to step up.

Munyai qualified for the 2016 Olympics during his matric year and has put in some good performances since then.

EVENTS TO WATCH

The men’s 100m/200m and the men’s 400m hurdles are going to be tightly contested throughout the season as some top athletes vie for three spots in each event at the Olympics.

Simbine is the foremost 100/200 sprinter in the country but he’ll have tight competition again this season, and they’ll also be competing for a spot on the 4x100m relay team. Simon Magakwe, Thando Dlodlo, Clarence Munyai, Anaso Jobodwana, Luxolo Adams and Henricho Bruintjies, Chederick van Wyk, Dambile Sinesipho are all likely to contest the 100m/200m throughout the season with Van Niekerk expected to attempt the 200m/400m double. Jobodwana is likely to focus on the 200m with an eye on a 4x100m spot.

The 400m hurdles will see defending SA champion Lindsey Hanekom go up against Soks Zazini, the fit-again Cornel Fredericks as well as Le Roux Hamman and Constant Pretorius. Since the retirement of LJ van Zyl, this race has been left wide open.

But an athletics season is never predictable and with the Olympics in touching distance, some athletics may find an edge that will surprise us.\

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