CAPE TOWN – It was another night to forget for Team South Africa in the relays at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, as the men’s 4x400m squad – without the services of Wayde van Niekerk – were unable to advance to the Saturday’s final.
The 400m world record-holder Van Niekerk was conspicuous by his absence at the Olympic Stadium – having missed out on the final in the individual event earlier in the week – with teenager Lythe Pillay kicking off in the first leg from lane nine, followed by SA champion Zakithi Nene, veteran Ranti Dikgale and the experienced Thapelo Phora.
The 18-year-old Pillay, who hails from Johannesburg, surged ahead from the outside lane and took the lead almost from the start.
Pillay flew through the first 300 metres, but understandably slowed down in the last 50m and was neck and neck with Poland down the home straight.
But Pillay was sixth in a time of 45.72 seconds at the first changeover to Nene, with France leading in 45.03.
The Polish outfit, though, stormed ahead in the second leg through Karol Zalewski, and South Africa faded to seventh despite Nene’s time of 45.51.
He transferred the baton to Dikgale, who worked hard but was unable to move up the field, and he was forced out wide by Indian athlete Arokia Rajiv in the home straight to register a time of 45.96.
That left it to Phora to salvage some pride, and while he gave it his all, he was unable to make up more ground on the rest of the field even though he had an official mark of 43.99 – the second-quickest in the final leg.
Phora came home in seventh position in a time of 3 minutes 01.18 – a season’s best, but not quick enough to advance to the final.
Poland took the honours in the second heat in 2:58.55, followed by Jamaica (2:59.29) and Belgium (2:59.37) for the three automatic qualifying spots for the final.
In the first heat, the United States produced the fastest time on the day of 2:57.77, and there was a new African record by Botswana – who were led by Isaac Makwala – in 2:58.33 to secure second place, with Trinidad and Tobago third (2:58.60).
United States 2:57.77
Trinidad and Tobago 2:58.60
1 United States 2:57.77
2 Botswana 2:58.33
3 Trinidad and Tobago 2:58.60
4 Italy 2:58.91
5 Netherlands 2:59.06
6 Great Britain 3:03.29
7 Czech Republic 3:03.61
8 Germany 3:03.62
1 Poland 2:58.55
2 Jamaica 2:59.29
3 Belgium 2:59.37
4 India 3:00.25
5 Japan 3:00.76
6 France 3:00.81
7 South Africa 3:01.18
8 Colombia 3:03.20