JOHANNESBURG - Speaking from experience, interim national triathlon coach Kate Roberts believes South Africa can dominate the podium in the swim-cycle-run event at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April.
Roberts, who was a member of the quartet which raced to silver medal at the Glasgow edition in 2014, is buoyant about the country’s chances in the triathlon.
She had reason to be optimistic after another successful Discovery Triathlon World Cup Cape Town at the weekend where elite male athletes Richard Murray and Henri Schoeman claimed a 1-2 podium finish.
It was Simone Ackermann’s fourth-place finish in the women’s race that provided Roberts with a smile as she could see the mixed relay plans coming together.
South Africa’s female stocks have been somewhat depleted since Roberts called it a day and Mari Rabie’s retirement after the Rio Olympic Games.
“I was really happy with her performance, she was strong and she is definitely the one we would look to use, leading out our team in the mixed relay,” Roberts said. “Since Mari left we’ve missed a girl who has a strong swimming and cycling background which is something we have lacked in the team relay.
“We are very keen to have her race first and I think it would be really good for us and we expect to do really well at the Commonwealth Games in terms of the mixed team relay with her input.”
Four years ago the mixed relay team of Roberts, Schoeman, Murray, and Gillian Sanders surprised by finishing second behind a strong England team for the silver medal.
South Africa’s hopes of repeating that feat had waned slightly since Rabie’s retirement until Ackermann emerged as a worthy replacement. The East London-born Ackermann made her first appearance in South African colours at last year’s World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Rotterdam after switching allegiances from New Zealand.
Ackermann first had to compete as a neutral athlete for a 12-month period before she was eligible to represent South Africa.
There have been murmurs that South Africa’s top female triathlete Gillian Sanders could consider retiring from the sport at the end of this season. The 36-year-old’s possible departure would be a blow to the country’s hopes of securing a mixed relay medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games where the event will be hosted for the first time.
Roberts said South African triathlon would have to fast track one of the junior athletes should Sanders no longer be available. While the country could qualify three male spots - Schoeman, Murray and Wian Sullwald - with Ackermann possibly securing one for the women they'd have to qualify a second female which seems unlikely at this point.
They would instead have to send relay teams to qualifying events when the window opens in May which would give junior athletes an opportunity to put up their hands and secure a separate relay spot for the country.
“We’ve got to look towards our junior athletes for the mixed team relay which is why we made sure many of them raced over the weekend especially the girls,” Roberts said.