Johannesburg – South Africa will be gunning for their first ever medal at the World Cross Country Championships, according to Lebo Phalula, who will spearhead the women's team in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in March.
Phalula and Elroy Gelant won the senior women's and men's titles respectively for the second year in a row at the SA Cross Country Trials in Boksburg on Saturday.
“All the girls are positive and we'll have a strong team for the world championships,” Phalula said.
Athletics SA president James Evans said the squad was likely to be announced on Monday for the Southern Region Championships in Lesotho on March 3, where the team would be finalised for the global championships three weeks later.
At least six athletes would be selected in each of the four categories – senior men (12km) and women (8km), and junior men (8km) and women (6km) – along with a few possible wild cards for the southern region event.
Five would then be chosen for the world championships, with the first four to count towards the team event in each race.
“I hope they take a full team to the world championships, because I heard at one point they might only take the top three, and the women's team can finish second or third there,” Phalula said.
“We definitely want a medal in Poland, and nobody wants to run as an individual. We want to compete as a team.”
Evans said the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had come to the rescue of ASA, which was facing financial troubles, by covering half the costs of sending the squad to Poland.
“We did really well at the last world championships, so the IAAF has assisted us,” he said.
“We think five athletes per team will be sufficient, as only the top four South African finishers count towards the team prize. We have sent teams of six in the past, but the sixth athlete hardly ever contributes to the team competition, so we don't think it's necessary.”
The SA women's squad finished ninth at the previous biennial championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, in 2011, while the senior men's team finished fifth. The junior men ended sixth and the junior women were 10th.
Gelant confirmed he would lead the men's team in Poland after defending his crown at the trials.
He was unsure ahead of the race whether he would compete in the global event, even if he qualified, with his sights set on Shadrack Hoff's national 5 000 metres record on the track, but Gelant said he had decided to add the cross country event to his schedule.
“Now I'll start preparing for the world championships,” he said, “and I'll also run a few league meetings (on the track) before then.” – Sapa