Athletics / 13 November 2019, 09:30am / Ockert de Villiers
The country’s top sprinters will be jockeying for places in the men’s 4x100m relay team ahead of the June 2020 deadline for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
South Africa qualified a men’s 4x100m relay team for the Games after the quartet of Akani Simbine, Simon Magakwe, Thando Dlodlo and Clarence Munyai featured in the final at this year’s IAAF World Championships.
The quartet finished fifth with a time of 37.73 seconds, 0.08s slower than the continental record they set in the semi-final the night before - the joint eighth-fastest of all-time.
Each country is limited to three athletes per individual event at the Games and so far only Simbine, in the 100m and Munyai in the 200m have posted qualifying times. While some athletes will miss out on qualifying for an individual event, the relay provides an opportunity to not only make it to the Olympics but challenge for a medal.
The fight for the six places in each of the relay events will be a fierce one and could make 2020 one of the most exciting seasons in recent years.
National coach Paul Gorries believes the men’s team has the potential to do on the track what the Awesome Foursome did in the pool at the Athens 2004 Olympics.
The men’s 4x100m relay swimming team of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling broke the world record at the Athens Olympics.
“We should have won a medal in Doha, it didn’t happen, but I think we showed what we could do,” Gorries said.
“I don’t see us merely challenging for a medal next year but as a contender to win the title.”
But South Africa still needs to qualify three more teams for the quadrennial showpiece with the men’s 4x400m team narrowly missing out on a spot in the final in Doha and with that an automatic qualification for Tokyo. The women’s 4x100m and 4x400m relays have not instilled confidence over the last year. The mixed 4x400m relay will be making its debut at the Olympics which provides South Africa with another shot at a medal if they can assemble the right team. A lot of this will ride on the availability and form of world 400m record holder Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya, who are the country’s two top one-lap sprinters.
Gorries has been lured to Tuks Athletics to head its sprinting programme while he will also drive coordinate the country’s relay squad.
South African athletics will ultimately benefit from Gorries’ involvement at Tuks where he will have access to the Sport, Exercise Medicine and Lifestyle Institute at the university.
Gorries said they would be monitoring the athletes that have been announced in the preliminary squad for the Tokyo Games.
“ASA has bought into it now, so I am here for Tuks wanting to take the sprinting programme over and monitoring the senior athletes,” he said.
“We will have everything here, training camps and testing. You need to put a benchmark in place if you can’t run faster than 10.15 seconds then you are wasting your time being in a 4x100m team.
“With 10.10 you can run a 37-second time because on the fly you can run a 9, like AK (Simbine), he ran an 8.8 in the heat.”
Gorries said he had consulted with some of the international coaches, including former British sprinter Christian Malcolm, who was a key figure behind their successful sprinting programme.
Both its men’s and women’s 4x100m relay teams won silver in Doha adding to the gold and silver they won at the London World Championships in 2017 respectively.
“Christian Malcolm is a good friend of mine, and we’ve been talking a lot,” Gorries said.
“We speak a lot about the systems, but they had a lot of lotto funding, and they could have four to five camps a year and dictate to the athletes.
“We are not in that position because we don’t pay for single athletes (to camp).”