Luvo Manyonga celebrates winning silver at 2016 Olympics. Picture: David Goldman/AP

JOHANNESBURG - Realistically speaking South Africa can return from the IAAF World Championships in London with their greatest medal harvest ever considering the talent in the team.

Spearheaded by defending 400m world champion Wayde van Niekerk, Olympic women’s 800m champion Caster Semenya, and long-jump sensation Luvo Manyonga, South Africa have reason to be optimistic.

Given the class within the team the country can improve on their best performance to date at the championships.

The class of 2003 had SA’s best haul when high jumpers Hestrie Cloete and Jacques Freitag leapt to gold, with pole vaulter Okkert Brits bagging silver and late 800m ace Mbulaeni Mulauzi winning bronze.

South Africa’s chances of bagging more silverware this time will be boosted by three of their top athletes racing for doubles at the championships.

Van Niekerk will be adding the half-lap sprint to his repertoire where he will be looking to make more history to become only the second man in history to win the 200-400m double.

It will be far from easy with Botswana sprinter Isaac Makwala emerging as a strong candidate to spoil Van Niekerk’s party.

Wayde van Niekerk will be one of Southn Africa's biggest medal hopes at the World Championships in London. Picture: Sergio Moraes/Reutuers

In Van Niekerk’s final 400m race before the World Championships at the Monaco Diamond League meeting, Makwala pushed the South African all the way to the finish.

While Van Niekerk boasts the world lead of 43.62 seconds in the one-lap sprint, Makwala is ranked third with his 43.84 from Monaco.

Makwala in turn ran the fastest time this year in the 200m (19.77 in Madrid) while Van Niekerk’s national record of 19.84 is ranked second best in 2017.

Winning both the 200m and 400m will be a massive mountain to climb for Van Niekerk but he is not one to shy away from a challenge.

Caster Semenya will be running in the 800m and 1500m at the World Championships in London. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Semenya will be looking for her own piece of history racing in both the 800m and the 1500m where she could become the first woman to win both titles at the same championships. 

Her supremacy in the 800m has come under increased threat, though, with Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi edging closer to her, while Olympic bronze medallist Margaret Wambui and American Ajee Wilson are also running well.

Completing South Africa’s list of double candidates, Akani Simbine will be back into the blocks in both the 100m and the 200m. 

The SA 100m record-holder may have lost some ground since posting his season’s best of 9.92, but he still ranks among the world’s fastest men.

Simbine boasts the third fastest times in the world this year over both distances with his 200m personal best of 19.95 also raising his profile in half-lap sprint. 

He will of course line up against legend Usain Bolt in the Jamaican’s final hurrah while he will race Van Niekerk and Makwala in the 200m.

SA long jumpers Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai could well be fighting it out for the gold medal at the championships.

The duo has dominated the long jump event this year, boasting the top eight leaps between them.

Manyonga will be the man to beat with his season’s best and SA record jump of 8.65m.

There will be very little room for complacency with Samaai proving he is somewhat of a street fighter with his personal best 8.49m - enough reason to make him a credible threat.

Fellow South African Zarck Visser’s season’s best of 8.22m may not be at the same level as his compatriots but should he find form at the championships, a 1-2-3 may not be completely unthinkable.

The team’s medal-winning prospects took a knock when Olympic women’s javelin silver medallist Sunette Viljoen withdrew from the team due to a back injury.

The build-up to the showpiece starting on Friday has been overshadowed by Athletics SA’s (ASA) selection bungling. ASA have left 14 athletes that have met IAAF qualifying standards out of the team after they failed to meet their own stringent criteria.

The farcical nature of the selections was highlighted by the fact that athletes that did not even meet the IAAF standards could be included ahead of deserving athletes through the international body’s invitation to fill event quotas.

ASA initially selected discus thrower Victor Hogan on a wildcard ticket as an African champion but he was removed from the list when the IAAF informed the South African federation that he has been stripped of his title due to a doping offence. 

Hogan has since returned to the team after receiving an invitation from the IAAF to fill the quota in the event.

Women’s 100m hurdles champion Rikenette Steenkamp also received an invitation from the IAAF but has been ruled out due to injury.

It has also emerged that SA could after all have a men’s 4x100m relay team in London as three teams are rumoured to have pulled out. Lying 18th in the rankings SA would move to 15th giving them a spot among the top nations for the showpiece.

Sunday Independent

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