CAPE TOWN – No Wayde van Niekerk, but at least Akani Simbine will spearhead the South African team at next weekend’s World Athletics Relays championships in Poland – if it goes ahead.
National relay coach Paul Gorries told Independent Media on Thursday afternoon that 400m Olympic champion Van Niekerk has withdrawn from the team, due to his impending trip to the United States.
Van Niekerk has been awaiting approval from US authorities for a number of weeks now to travel to Florida, where he will join his new coach Lance Brauman’s training group, which includes 200m world champion Noah Lyles.
It is understood that the 400m world record-holder may even depart for the US as early as this weekend.
“As much as we would’ve liked Wayde to be part of the team, it’s not an issue as he asked for permission a long time ago to travel to the US. If the approval had been given earlier, he would’ve been there already. He will not be replaced in the team (for the 4x400m relay),” Gorries said.
That leaves 400m SA champion Zakithi Nene and African junior champion Lythe Pillay to take up the baton for the 4x400m team, but Gorries believes that they can still achieve their goal of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, by reaching the final in Poland.
“Wayde hasn’t been part of our team in a while anyway, so we’ve built up good depth in the 4x400m squad. I am confident that the guys can finish in the top eight to secure automatic qualification for Tokyo,” he said.
But it’s the 4x100m relay that will attract all the attention in Poland and that is where Team SA have an ace up their sleeves in the form of Simbine. The 27-year-old clocked a superb 9.82 seconds at the national championships in Pretoria last week, although the time was not recognised for the world list due to an illegal tail-wind of 2.8 metres per second.
He ran another sub-10 second time (9.99) to win the title at the Tuks Stadium, and has a number of world-class runners alongside him in the SA team.
The SA 200m record-holder Clarence Munyai has recovered from a hamstring injury, and it is hoped that Luxolo Adams is also fit again.
While the SA 4x100m team have already qualified for the Olympics, Gorries said that they are pushing for a medal in Poland.
But whether they actually travel to Silesia for the event, which is set to take place on May 1-2, is still up in the air. While the United States already out a while ago, the likes of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Australia also opted to withdraw this week due to Covid-19 restrictions and travel issues.
Gorries said that at the moment, South Africa were still going, although “things can change from day to day. We haven’t officially withdrawn yet. We’ve had to reroute our flights due to the restrictions, and are supposed to leave SA next Wednesday.”
4x100m: Akani Simbine, Clarence Munyai, Thando Dlodlo, Luxolo Adams, Gift Leotlela, Emile Erasmus
4x400m: Lythe Pillay, Berend Koekemoer, Zakithi Nene, Oscar Mavundla, Ranti Dikgale.
Mixed 4x400m: Simon Khuzwayo, Ranti Dikgale, Taylon Bieldt, Marli Viljoen, Dalene Mpiti.