Turbulent year for SA athletics

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Oscar Pistorius is accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. File picture: Sizwe Ndingane

Johannesburg – South African athletics experienced one of its toughest years, plagued by board-room battles and rocked by the arrest of double-amputee Oscar Pistorius for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria home on Valentine's Day.

It was not all doom and gloom as some encouraging performances in track and field painted the sport in a better light.

Johan Cronje's bronze-medal run in the men's 1500m at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow in August and Lusapho April's third-place finish at the New York City Marathon ranked among the highlights of the year.

South Africans woke up on February 14 to the news of Pistorius's arrest with his bail hearing on February 22 causing a media frenzy.

At his bail hearing, Pistorius submitted he thought Steenkamp was an intruder. He was granted R1-million bail with some restrictions, which were later relaxed. Pistorius appeared briefly in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on August 19 and the trial was moved to the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to start on March 3, 2014.

Back on the track, 31-year-old Cronje stunned South Africans with his tenacious bronze-medal run for the country’s only medal from Moscow.

The South African record-holder clocked three minutes 36.83, seconds (3:36.83) behind Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, who won in 3.36.28, and American Matthew Centrowitz who finished second in 3:36.78.

While his performance came as a surprise, his form earlier in the year was an indication of greater things to come for the Bloemfontein athlete.

At the beginning of May, he broke the 20-year-old South African record in the blue-ribbon event, finishing eighth in the opening leg of the Diamond League season in Doha, Qatar.

He raced to a time of 3:33.46, improving on Johan Landsman's previous national mark of 3:33.56, set in Zurich, Switzerland, in August 1993.

While Cronje produced the only medal at the world championships there were encouraging performances by a youthful South African team.

Seven of the athletes made it into finals in their respective events with discus thrower Victor Hogan reaching the final, finishing in a creditable fifth place with a distance of 64.35

metres.

Sprinting sensation Anaso Jobodwana crossed the finish line in sixth place in the men’s 200m final but failed to make it into the 100m final.

Decathlete Willem Coertzen set a new African Record finishing ninth with Olympic silver medal long jumper Khotso Mokoena taking seventh place overall.

Among the disappointments were former 400m hurdles bronze medallist LJ van Zyl who was eliminated in the first round, while javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen finished in sixth place.

South African 800m ace Andre Olivier was one of the leading men in the two-lap event was considered a possible medal contender was a late withdrawal at the world championships due to a foot injury.

The London Olympics semi-finalist has made steady progress, dipping below one minute, 45 seconds (1:45), five times this season.

He ran his best race of the season at the Rome Diamond League meeting in early June where he finished third in a time of 1:44.37

which was 0.08 seconds slower than his personal best.

Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya, who underwent knee surgery failed in her last-ditch attempt to qualify for the world championships.

Semenya only made her return to the track at the Lahti Games in Finland in July, with a pedestrian 2:06.58.

In her second attempt, also in Finland, to qualify for the world champs, she clocked 2:04.48 at the Savo Games Ä 4.48 seconds outside the qualifying standard.

While Athletics SA (ASA) was being placed under administration by Sascoc (SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) for the second time in four years, a new crop of South African talent emerged at the national championships in Stellenbosch in April.

In the absence of Semenya, 17-year-old Gena Lofstrand won the 800m race as she led from gun to tape for the victory. Long jumper Lynique Prinsloo, who also featured at the world championships, dished up arguably the best performance.

She improved her personal best by more than 20 centimetres with a jump of 6.81m which is the third best distance by a South African.

Zarck Visser moved up the all-time list in the men’s long jump with his 8.29m at the same event Ä the second best leap by a South African.

Distance runner April produced a gutsy performance for his well-paced third in New York after sitting back in the lead group for most of the 42km race. He started to make his presence felt as he moved up the outside of the eight-man pack with 12km left to cross the line in two hours, nine minutes, 45 seconds (2:09.45), 73 seconds outside his career best set in his winning run at the Hannover Marathon, in Germany, in May.

Veteran SA wheelchair racer Ernst van Dyk finished second at the New York City Marathon in a tight sprint finish in 1:40:14.

At the Boston Marathon, where a bomb was set off close to the finish line, Van Dyk missed out on his 10th wheelchair victory, finishing in second place.

In April, Irvette van Zyl improved her personal best by more than two minutes, finishing 10th in the London Marathon women's race.

Meanwhile, former South African 800m champion Mapaseka Makhanya made a stunning transition from track to road as she was crowned Women's 10km Challenge road race champion.

She also won the Gauteng Challenge marathon improving the women's record by six minutes to secured a comfortable victory on her marathon debut in 2:37:06.

Boardroom battles were a constant throughout the year, with ASA president James Evans and the board at loggerheads. The board was dissolved at an annual general meeting (AGM) in Johannesburg at the end of November and a seven-member interim board appointed to run the sport for six months.

Evans, however, remained defiant and insisted he remained the president of the embattled federation, claiming the AGM Ä and, therefore, the decision by the provinces to sack the board Ä was unconstitutional and illegal.

At the end of June, Sascoc suspended ASA after its members ignored sanctions placed on its board.

The suspension was in terms of Clause 9.3 of Sascoc's Articles of Association which gave it the power to “suspend, fine and terminate” the membership of any federation which infringed the Sascoc constitution or brought the organisation into disrepute.

However, earlier in June, the IAAF reaffirmed its support for the elected ASA board members, led by Evans.

The IAAF refused to recognise the Sascoc-appointed ASA administrator Zola Majavu, tasked with solving the association's financial problems.

Majavu had since vacated the post, little more than two months after he was appointed by Sascoc.

South Africa's International Olympic Committee member Sam Ramsamy was subsequently appointed by the IAAF to resolve the matter of ASA's suspension, along with Cheikh Thiare, the executive assistant to the world body's president Lamine Diack.

The IAAF was yet to recognise the interim board which meant the ongoing saga at ASA would continue into 2014. – Sapa


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