Women to spearhead SA’s athletic team

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iol spt july17 Sunette Gallo Images South Africa's medal hopes resting heavily on the shoulders of the athletics squad at the London Olympic Games, with Caster Semenya and Sunette Viljoen, pictured, favoured to get medals.

Johannesburg – The only two women in the 13-member track and field contingent, Caster Semenya and Sunette Viljoen, will carry the weight of a nation, with South Africa's medal hopes resting heavily on the shoulders of the athletics squad at the London Olympic Games.

When the previous quadrennial Games were held in Beijing, Semenya was an unknown 16-year-old from a dusty, rural town in Polokwane.

Four years later she is considered South Africa’s greatest medal prospect.

Semenya set a national record of 1:55.45 to win the world title in Berlin in 2009, brushing off a gender controversy that raged around her, and reaffirmed her status as one of the world's top 800m runners when she secured silver at last year’s global championships in Daegu.

Viljoen, meanwhile, has been the epitome of consistency and has shown steady progression over the last four years, improving her personal best by seven metres since the Beijing Games.

The 28-year-old will arrive at her third Olympics as the number one women’s javelin thrower in the world after producing another national record effort of 69.39 metres at the New York Diamond League meeting in June.

And while the SA men's athletics team has been hit by injury Ä

middle distance veteran Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was unavailable for selection Ä they will also hope to shine in an effort to push the country up the medals table in the last week of the London Games.

Long jump ace Khotso Mokoena saved the country's blushes in Beijing when he clinched the team's solitary medal, bagging silver in his specialist event.

Mokoena, known for his big match temperament, will head into the London Games with similar expectations.

While he has been inconsistent and battled with injuries over the last few years, his ability to strike when least expected will be a major factor in the English capital.

One-lap hurdler LJ van Zyl has gone from strength to strength after he finished fifth in the Chinese capital four years ago.

Last year he started his season off by smashing the SA record when he clocked 47.66 seconds in Pretoria.

He went on to set the four fastest times of the season and secured the bronze medal at the global championships.

Injury has taken a toll on his preparations for the London Games, and he has been out of sorts this year, but Van Zyl remains confident of his chances and his never-say-die attitude could see him step on the podium.

Van Zyl will be joined by national 400m hurdles champion Cornel Fredericks, who at the age of 22 will view these Games as a learning curve for 2016.

Fredericks has been the better of the two this season, however, and after finishing fifth in Daegu last year, he could spring a surprise if he reaches the final.

While he won't be in contention for a medal in the individual 400m event, double amputee Oscar Pistorius is likely to create more hype in London than any of his teammates.

Pistorius, cleared four years ago to run against able-bodied athletes, is not travelling to London as a spectator. He'll be there to compete.

Having reached the semi-finals in Daegu last year, the 'Blade Runner' will hope to produce a similar performance at the Games, though he stands a chance of making history in the 4x400m relay.

The fastest one-lap sprinter in the country this season, Pistorius will be joined by Van Zyl, Fredericks, Ofentse Mogawane, Willie de Beer and Shaun de Jager as the relay squad targets a repeat performance of their silver medal-winning effort at the 2011 global championships.

Away from the track, South Africa's marathon team will boast a full contingent of men and women for the first time.

The women’s trio will consist of Rene Kalmer, Tanith Maxwell and Irvette van Blerk, while Lusapho April, Stephen Mokoka and Coolboy Ngamole will turn out in the men's race.

SA athletics team: Track and field: Men: Anaso Jobodwana, Andre Olivier, Lehann Fourie, Cornel Fredericks, LJ van Zyl, Oscar Pistorius, Ofentse Mogawane, Willem de Beer, Shaun de Jager, Khotso Mokoena, Willem Coertzen. Women: Caster Semenya, Sunette Viljoen.

Marathon: Men: Lusapho April, Stephen Mokoka, Coolboy Ngamole. Women: Rene Kalmer, Tanith Maxwell, Irvette van Blerk.

50km race walk: Marc Mundell. – Sapa


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