JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s seventh appearance at the Commonwealth Games since readmission to international sport will see some of the country’s most decorated athletes flying the flag at Australia’s Gold Coast.
The country will again rely on its Rio 2016 Olympic medallists, while the bowls contingent is a traditional major contributor to South Africa’s medal tally at the Commonwealth Games.
South Africa will be looking to return to the top five on the medals table after it slipped to seventh place at the previous edition in Glasgow in 2014, with 40 (13 gold, 10 silver and 17 bronze).
The country has been to six Commonwealth Games since 1994, and has finished fifth overall on three occasions (Kuala Lumpur 1998, Melbourne 2006 and New Delhi 2010).
South Africa’s joint-most decorated swimmer at the Games, Chad le Clos will be looking to etch his name into the history books at the quadrennial showpiece.
Le Clos is aiming to become the most celebrated athlete at the Games, where he has his sights on extending his tally to 18 or more medals over three editions.
He’s won 12 medals at the Delhi and Glasgow Games, and has entered five individual events - the 50, 100 and 200m butterfly, and 100 and 200m freestyle.
He has also entered the 4x100 and 4x200m freestyle, and 4x100m medley relays, where he would rely on his teammates to edge him closer to the milestone.
Caster, girl with golden glow
Three-time world champion Semenya has an insatiable taste for gold medals, with an 800-1500m double next in her sights.
She won a rare 800-1500m gold-bronze at last year’s IAAF World Championships in London, repeating Russian Svetlana Masterkova’s feat from Seville 1999.
Now she will take aim at another historic feat where she wants to follow in the footsteps of Kenyan Nancy Langat and Welshwoman Kirsty Wade, who did the double in Delhi and in Edinburgh in 1986, respectively.
Too cool for the pool
Swimming legend Cameron van der Burgh will be swimming at his third and final Commonwealth Games, where he hopes to add to the six medals he has.
He will be eyeing a third consecutive 50m breaststroke gold to highlight his dominance in the event, while an outside chance at a 100m breaststroke title could be on the cards, while Ayrton Sweeney will go into the Games as one of the top-ranked men in the 200m breaststroke.
South Africa’s top woman swimmer, Tatjana Schoenmaker, will look to become the first SA woman since 2010 to earn a podium place.
Her World Student Games silver medal time of 2min 24.61sec places her in the top five in the Commonwealth.
The time is ripe for South Africa to win a medal in the short sprints, with the country’s fastest men leading the world 200m rankings, and among the top three in the 100m.
SA 100m record holder Akani Simbine is ranked third in the world and will be looking to finally get a medal at a major event.
He featured in the 100m final at the 2016 Olympics and last year’s world championships, finishing fifth in both.
The half-lap sprint offers possibly the best prospect of success, with former world 200m bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana and national record holder Clarence Munyai in hot early-season form.
Munyai’s record run of 19.69 seconds at the SA Championships last month is the only sub-20sec time this season, and Jobodwana is the third fastest man in the world this season with the 20.07sec he ran in Paarl in March.
Long jump pas de deux
SA’s two top long jumpers have been performing a sandpit pas de deux over the last year or so, spearheaded by Luvo Manyonga, with Ruswahl Samaai playing an award-winning supporting role. The pair are firm favourites to claim a 1-2 sweep.
Samaai boasts the second best jump this season with his 8.39m from Paarl last month, while Manyonga has an 8.03m.
Manyonga’s national and continental indoor record of 8.44m is probably a better indication of his true form.
Spear of the nation
Sunette Viljoen may go into the Games slightly undercooked after she had to undergo a last-minute fitness test after battling with a niggling injury. It would still be foolhardy to bet against the Olympic silver medallist, who has a penchant for the big moment.
Her heave of 62.46m at the recent international meeting in Sasolburg places her third in the Commonwealth. She would, however, have to pull out a special throw to bag the gold medal, with Australia’s Kathryn Mitchell boasting a world lead of 68.57m she recorded in March.
Tri and Tri again
Four years ago, South Africa bowed out of the Glasgow Games with two triathlon medals courtesy of Richard Murray’s bronze and a silver by the mixed relay team. Olympic bronze medallist Henri Schoeman and Murray have been the two form triathletes in the world so far this year, and will fancy their chances of earning podium places.
Schoeman won the World Series rankings in Abu Dhabi and finished second at the Cape Town ITU World Cup.
Murray will be buoyed by his two ITU World Cup titles, which included the Cape Town edition.
With Murray and Schoeman leading the charge in the mixed relay team, South Africa have another realistic chance of bagging a medal.
BlitzBoks on the offence
The BlitzBoks won the inaugural Sevens title at the Games four years ago and, given their current form, could well go on to bag another gold medal.
The national Sevens side top the World Seven Series rankings after winning the Dubai tournament, while they have finished runners-up twice this ¬season, and third on two occasions.
They will face some of the top teams from the series, and will have to rekindle the form from earlier this term to retain their title.
Bowl in one
Bowls has traditionally been one of the big contributors, producing five gold medals at the previous Games, and two bronzes for good measure.
The bowls team includes stalwart Gerry Baker, who will be looking to claim his fourth medal at the Games, which would be 20 years after he won his first at Kuala Lumpur 1998.
Colleen Piketh was one of the big winners four years ago when she bagged two medals after winning the women’s pairs and finishing third in the singles.