SA rowing team join athletics stars Gift Leotlela, Kyle Blignaut in qualifying for Tokyo Olympics
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CAPE TOWN – Kyle Blignaut is BIG, in every sense of the word – and that’s not just about the size of the South African shot put champion.
Yes, he is 1.95m tall and weighs 148kg, but the former rugby player is about to enter the biggest stage of his career: the Olympic Games.
Still just 21, the Tuks athlete produced a monumental distance of 21.21m to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the weekend during the University Sports South Africa (USSA) championships in Johannesburg.
Blignaut, the 2018 world junior champion, has been creeping ever closer to the qualifying mark of 21.10m. He won the SA senior title in Pretoria last month with a 20.82m effort, and threw 21.03m in Potchefstroom recently.
At the university event on Saturday, he finally made the breakthrough with his fourth throw on the day, which measured 21.14m. But Blignaut wasn’t done yet – he pulled off a massive heave of 21.21m in the final round for the gold medal.
“Happy to say that I finally hit the OQ with a distance of 21.21m at the @ussastudent meeting!” Blignaut posted on Instagram, alongside a video of his throw.
“Thanks to my Coach @pierre.blignaut.14 for all the hours of training that he puts in with me, and none of this would be possible without him! Also a big thanks to my family and friends who supported me! Now time for bigger things in Europe and time to focus on the Games!
“Today was only possible through God’s grace, and I am very thankful for the ability to compete and do what I love!”
It followed a weekend of success for local athletics, with 100m sprinter Gift Leotlela also booking his ticket to Tokyo at the same university event as he clocked 9.94 seconds to take the title.
Long-distance runner Dominique Scott-Efurd also improved her 10 000m personal best to finish ninth at a World Athletics Continental Tour meeting in Irvine, California.
Scott-Efurd ran a time of 31 minutes, 41.16 seconds (31:41.16), beating her previous mark of 31:43.18.
The feel-good weekend didn’t end there for South Africa’s Olympic chances, as the men’s four rowing team qualified for Tokyo as well.
Lawrence Brittain, Kyle Schoonbee, John Smith and Sandro Torrente won the final at the World Rowing Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland on Sunday.
The four-strong group will now look to emulate the ‘Awesome Foursome’ from the 2012 London Olympics, which won the gold medal in the coxless fours – Brittain and Smith were part of that achievement as well, and the duo will compete in Tokyo in the men’s pair race too.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Brittain and Shaun Keeling took the silver medal in the men’s pair.
On Sunday, the SA four crew won in a time of six minutes, 6.11 seconds (6:06.11), holding off Canada by just a second.
Schoonbee told the World Rowing website: “A lot of pressure, we’ve spent lots of time on the repeated training. It was a good race all the way through. Obviously, we are going to Tokyo for one reason – that’s to win, so in the next two months, I will be all into that.”