SOUTH AFRICA'S top sprinters are expected to steal the show and experienced campaigners are favoured to dominate other disciplines at the ASA Senior and Combined Events Championships in Potchefstroom on Friday and Saturday.
The likes of national 100m record holder Akani Simbine, SA 200m record holder Ananso Jobodwana, world 400m record holder Wayde van Niekerk and defending 100m champion Henricho Bruintjies tipped to battle it out for the short-sprint titles, but they will need to hold off a new generation of determined teenage speedsters.
Defending national 200m champion Clarence Munyai broke the SA Junior half-lap mark in Tshwane last month, clocking 20.10 seconds, while training partner Gift Leotlela shattered the Under-20 100m record with a 10.12 performance on the fast Tuks track.
After covering the 100m dash in 9.95 earlier this season to join a growing list of local sub-10 sprinters, 21-year-old Thando Roto will also be chasing gold.
“Now I’ve got all the experience I need,” said Munyai, who competed at last year’s World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz and the Olympic Games in Rio.
“Last year I just went and ran (in Stellenbosch), with no real experience, and I hope this year I can run that well again.”
In the hurdles, national record holder LJ van Zyl and fellow Olympian Le Roux Hamman will be among the favourites in the 400m dash, but Cornel Fredericks will target a comeback victory.
After struggling with an Achilles injury over the last couple of years, Fredericks burst back into form last month by clocking 49.27 in Tshwane, and he can lift the national crown.
“The 400m hurdlers in South Africa have really stepped up over the last two years, but I’m happy with the couple of races I’ve had since my comeback this season,” said Fredericks, the reigning Commonwealth Games champion.
“I think we’re going to see some fast times this weekend.”
In-form Western Province athlete Antonio Alkana will be difficult to beat once again in the 110m hurdles event, but all eyes may well be on Gauteng North’s Rikenette Steenkamp, also making a successful return to the track this season after a lengthy injury hiatus, in the women’s 100m hurdles.
Steenkamp, who set a personal best of 13.04 a few weeks ago, is on the verge of becoming the second SA woman to dip under 13 seconds in her specialist discipline.
“I’ve been out for two years and my focus has been on coming back,” Steenkamp said. “Everyone is talking about the sub-13, and it is part of the dream, but time is not the focus for me at this point.”
Meanwhile, on the field, Luvo Manyonga is eager to take another step forward after making a return to the sport early last year.
The Rio Olympic silver medallist has already broken the national long jump record this season with a leap of 8.62m, and he will be the favourite to earn the national title in one of the country’s most competitive disciplines.
He is up against the likes of African champion Ruswahl Samaai and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Zarck Visser.
“I’ve never felt like I had pressure on myself,” Manyonga said. “I just want to go there and compete, and we’ll see at the end of the competition who jumps the best.”
A total of 671 athletes have entered one of the most highly anticipated ASA Senior Championships in recent years, and all 17 of the federation’s provincial members will be represented over two days of competition.
The programme will start on Friday at 9.30am at Puk McArthur Stadium and 6.30am on Saturday. Entry will cost R50 per person each day, with tickets for both days available at R80.
Athletics South Africa