SA looking to sprint for potential medal in Tokyo
CAPE TOWN - South Africa is finally ready to harness its exceptional sprinting prowess and take its place among the world's premier 4x100 relay teams.
For some time now, South Africa has produced world-class sprinters who have broken the 10-second barrier in the 100m event and that would have helped to field 4x100m relay teams with high medal expectations at all levels of international competition.
South Africa's relay failure reached the tipping point at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, where their star-studded team failed to win a medal, finishing in fifth place. The failure was a direct result of being under-prepared for the event.
Athletics South Africa (ASA) was roundly criticised for not recognising relay as a medal prospect especially since the country had a few 100m sprinters hovering on either side of the 10-second mark.
ASA have heeded the lessons and last weekend a squad of sprinters worked out at the University of Pretoria’s Tuks Athletics Stadium in Tshwane under the guidance of national relay coach Paul Gorries, relays manager Danie Cornelius and ASA excellence manager Hezekiel Sepeng.
Three weeks ago, Gorries briefed the 4x100m relay squad in a virtual meeting about the expectation and training for upcoming events which include African Championships in Algeria (June 1-5), World Relay Championships in Poland (May 1-2) and the Tokyo Olympic Games (July 23-August 8).
"We spoke about what we wanted to achieve and how we are going to go about it," said Gorries.
"On the track, the aim was getting the athletes used to passing the baton around."
The relay squads have not been finalised and some of the sprinters who are based abroad are unable to travel freely because of coronavirus restrictions.
"I consider every athlete who runs a fast time to be in contention," said Gorries. "The US-based athletes like Anaso Jobodwana and Phatutshedzo Maswanganyi will join the squad as soon as the international travel regulations allow for it."
The training group included Chederick van Wyk, Akani Simbine, Clarence Munyai and Simon Magakwe. The training group will expand once more sprinters, especially those based abroad are available, like Jobodwana and Maswanganyi.
Magakwe, who was in the Doha team along with Thando Dlodlo, Munyai and Simbine, said the team will benefit from training together.
"We are working hard on changeover technique and executing in the take-over zones," said Magakwe, who boasts a 100m personal best of 9.98 seconds.
"I think we have the ability to take gold in Tokyo. We have a great team and must believe in the ability of our teammates."
Henricho Bruintjies is another who will join the group later. He too has run under 10 seconds over 100m with a career-best of 9.97 seconds.
"I believe we don't only have the ability but also the potential," said Bruintjies. "We must not be distracted and be caught up in the hype (at events). We must stay focussed on the task at hand. We are on the right track because preparation is key."
Simbine, one of the world's leading 100m sprinters with a personal best of 9.89 seconds, will anchor the team this year.
"I think the more training camps, the better," said Simbine, who was ranked No 3 over 100m last year.
"It is helping us to develop a team culture. We need to work on every facet of running a fast relay during training. The goal should be to do everything 100% correct every moment so that when we get to race, there are no mistakes."
Munyai also said the key to winning a medal was to eliminate errors.
"It only takes one small mistake to lose out on a medal place," said Munyai. Having a good relay team is not only about speed. To me, it is about doing the teamwork thoroughly."
Gorries said the 4x400m relay runners will have their maiden training session on March 6, also in Pretoria.