Cape Town - They ran, jumped and threw for four years, and now South Africa’s athletics stars can’t wait to make their mark on the biggest stage of them all at the Rio Olympics.
A number of our local athletes took to social media on Thursday to express their joy after being included in Team South Africa that was announced by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) in Johannesburg.
There were just 22 members in the athletics team at the 2012 London Olympics, but 39 will travel to Rio, with the medal prospects looking much healthier in 2016.
Caster Semenya was the only athletic to rank in the top three when she claimed silver in the 800m in London, and while she will be the absolute favourite for gold this time around (and may even compete in the 1 500m as well), there are a number of other medal contenders too.
Wayde van Niekerk is the current 400m world champion; Sunette Viljoen won a bronze medal in the javelin at last year’s world championships; LJ van Zyl has enjoyed a resurgence in the 400m hurdles this year; Ruswahl Samaai is ranked in the top four in the long jump this year; and Lusapho April can spring a surprise in the marathon.
Those are the obvious contenders, but any one of the sprinters such as Akani Simbine, Henricho Bruintjies, Anaso Jobodwana, Carina Horn and hurdler Wenda Nel could get into a final, while distance runners Elroy Gelant and Stephen Mokoka have been in top form this year too.
“TEAM SA. Rio 2016. Time to take control over this dream. And make a success out of this journey,” Van Niekerk posted on Instagram on Thursday.
Simbine wrote on the same social media platform: “ITS OFFICIAL!!!! I'm going to be an Olympian. So honored and excited to named in the team that is going to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games. It’s no longer just a dream but now my reality.”
Horn has trained for large parts of the last few years in Austria to improve her 100m times, and the sacrifice has paid off as she equalled Evette de Klerk’s national mark of 11.06 last year. She’s clocked 11.18 in 2016, and is building up to a sub-11 second time in Rio.
“Years ago I decided to make my athletics career my number one priority, it made me lose things, it made me suffer, but it was worth it all the way! #Olympics #teamSA #dreams #reality” she posted on Facebook.
Jobodwana was a surprise inclusion as a range of injuries have kept him off the track in 2016, but he has the “big-match temperament” of winning a bronze medal at the world championships in Beijing last year in a South African 200m record of 19.87. “Thank you to @PrimeHPI and @teamsa16 for always believing in me . #Rio2016 is official and with such a great team,” he said on Twitter.
Triple jumper Khotso Mokoena will take part in his fourth Olympics, while 400m hurdler Van Zyl will be joined by his wife Irvette van Blerk, who made the marathon team.
National 100m champion Alyssa Conley also has a family connection in Team SA, with her sister Simone included as the biokineticist and physical trainer of the men’s under-23 soccer team.
“2 years ago my sister and I set a goal and dream for us to represent Team S.A at the Olympic Games. We officially Olympians,” Alyssa Conley posted on Twitter.
But for some, the preparations continue on Friday night at the Diamond League in Monaco, where Van Niekerk (400m) and Semenya (800m) will headline a seven-strong South African contingent.
Samaai will take part in the long jump, Viljoen in the javelin, Nel in the 400m hurdles, Horn in the 100m and Dominique Scott in the women’s 3 000m.
SA Olympic Athletics Team
Women (marathon): Irvette van Zyl, Christine Kalmer, Lebo Phalula
Men (marathon): Lusapho April, Sibusiso Mzima, Lungile Gongqa
Women: Carina Horn, Alyssa Conley, Tsholofelo Thipe, Justine Palframan, Caster Semenya, Wenda Nel, Dominique Scott, Lynique Prinsloo, Sunette Viljoen, Anel Oosthuizen
Men: Akani Simbine, Henricho Bruintjies, Gift Leotlela, Clarence Munyai, Anaso Jobodwana, Wayde van Niekerk, Jacob Rozani, Rynhardt van Rensburg, Elroy Gelant, Stephen Mokoka, Antonio Alkana, Lindsay Hanekom, LJ van Zyl, Le Roux Hamman, Ruswahl Samaai, Luvo Manyonga, Stefan Brits, Khotso Mokoena, Rocco van Rooyen, Willem Coertzen, Lebogang Shange, Wayne Snyman, Marc Mundell
Managers/Coaches: Irma Reyneke, Paul Gorries, Terseus Liebenberg, Maryna van Niekerk, Pieter Lourens, James Moloi