Athletics delivers at Commonwealth Games

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iol spt aug 3 Gideon Sam Gallo Images File photo: Gideon Sam, the president of Sascoc.

Glasgow - Gideon Sam, the president of Sascoc, on Saturday gave the South African lawn bowls a free pass to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but how he must have wished, with all his heart, that bowls was an Olympic sport.

It is, sadly, given the country’s utter dominance here, not, and, with South Africa set to fall a few medals short of their targets of 43 medals and fifth place overall in the table, Sam’s focus has already swung to Rio in 2016 and the number of gongs they hope to bring home from here.

On Saturday there was no “12-from-12” prediction, a marketing idea that went wrong, and, in the absence of bowls, Sam said South Africa would look to their traditional strengths of swimming and athletics.

Athletics delivered again on the second-last day of the Games. Khotso Mokoena, the Olympic silver medal winner in Beijing, South Africa’s only medal in 2008, took gold in the triple jump. His second-round jump of 17.20m was 51cm longer than he had managed all year and in the teeming rain that hit Hampden Park, was enough to clinch South Africa’s 13th gold.

The 4x100m sprint team finished fourth behind the Jamaican squad anchored by Usain Bolt. Everyone was going to finish behind Bolt, but Akani Simbine, a rare talent, has gas to burn and did so in the final 100m. Johan Cronje came within five hundredths of a second of bronze in the 1500m, but was pipped on the line by New Zealand’s Nick Willis.

The women’s hockey team fell 5-2 to New Zealand in their bronze medal match, a score that flattered the team in black. They finished fourth in Delhi and again here. “We’ve shown South Africa can compete,” said Giles Bonnet, the coach. “But now it’s time to not just compete, but to get results.” The men’s hockey team ended their tournament on a high with a 7-3 thrashing of Canada.

Sam had harsh words for those sports that failed in Glasgow, naming boxing, weightlifting, cycling and gymnastics. They did not walk the talk, he said. They will find have to map out a better road to Rio if they hope to make the next Olympics.

“The Commonwealth Games gives us an indication of where are,” said Sam yesterday. “It’s halfway to the next Olympics. We always look the Commonwealth Games and take it from there. Swimming said we won’t get less that six from Chad alone. Bowls always said their total of medals was going to be more than Delhi, they didn’t say how much more, but they delivered.

“I think we can get about 10 or 12 medals in Rio. Now I see that there are some federations that cannot give us medals. You’ve seen how much effort I’ve put into boxing. It’s a tough one. I just don’t know what we need for boxing. We’ll all the federations a few weeks to let how they performed at the Games sink in, especially cycling, boxing and gymnastics. We need to be totally honest with ourselves when we talk about their hopes.”

Sascoc will have a series of meetings with federations, to hear their plans and evaluate them. “So the entire boxing leadership and the boxers they want to nominate will come forward and tell us what they want to do,” said Sam. “And we will evaluate them and test their thinking. In November we want to be able to say this is the initial squad for Rio. We can add on athletes.”

Swimming brought South Africa 12 medals, with seven involving Chad le Clos. Women’s swimming is a concern, said Sam, and would be looked at. Bowls brought seven medals, five of them gold, the biggest haul by a single country at any Commonwealth Games. Triathlon won two medals from three competitions, while as of Friday night, the South African athletics team had brought home eight medals, two of them from the Paralympic athletes Fanie van der Merwe and Charl du Toit. For a sport that has had a dysfunctional administration that replaced a corrupt and self-serving one, it is a fine return.

The way the athletes have come through and performed is a testament to them and their dedication,” said Sam. “They have come through some very, very, heavy seasons with their administrators. They have not had any help from the office. Poor Hezekiel Sepeng has tried, but he has no support. If it was not for Sascoc giving R10 000 here and R60 000 there, some of them would not have been here. I still believe that there are athletes who are not here we can bring into this squad.

“I’ve had a discussion with Sergey Bubka to work on our field events. He’s going to give me a top coach. I’ve discussed this with the president of Athletics South Africa. We’ll have to go back to what we know. You have to build athletics, you have to build swimming. If you want to build the foundations, you start with that. If rowing comes to the party with another medal, whether bronze or silver, that’s fine. Sevens will be a medal and golf possibly, too.”

Sam’s message to the administrators was simple: “You must walk the talk. Some talk too much and don’t do enough walking. Go and think it over. Use August and September to think it over.” - IOL



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