Ruswahl Samaai was one of the many athletes that didn't perform at the World Athletics Champs. Photo: Hassan Ammar/AP Photo
Ruswahl Samaai was one of the many athletes that didn't perform at the World Athletics Champs. Photo: Hassan Ammar/AP Photo

SA athletes need some expert guidance as Tokyo 2020 looms large

By Ockert De Villiers Time of article published Nov 6, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – Athletics South Africa (ASA) on Monday announced a 56-member “preparation squad” for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

To add to the intrigue, ASA included world 400m record holder Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya.

Van Niekerk has not seen international track action for two years while a cloud of uncertainty hangs over Semenya pending the outcome of her appeal at the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.

The squad includes 28 male and 11 female athletes as well as 17 other athletes who make up the men’s and women’s 4x100m relay squads as well as the men’s and mixed 4x400m relay squads.

According to ASA, the provisional squad were selected based on their performances in 2019 and they would be monitored by the ASA high-performance department.

Pardon my cynicism but I have hardly seen evidence of proper monitoring and support of athletes from an ASA perspective over the last decade.

Since the departure of national coach Wilfred Daniels following the Berlin 2009 World Championships, there has hardly been any structured high-performance programme looking after the athletes' needs.

Athletes had to undergo a flurry of assessments including fitness and blood tests which would give them markers to gauge their progress.

Each athlete would be given fitness, weight or performance targets they would have to meet if they were part of the programme.

While there is some support for athletes that are on the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s (Opex) programme, this is limited to a fortunate few. There have also been rumours that the Opex programme has been on wobbly legs due to Sascoc’s dire financial situation.

National athletes are in desperate need of a federation that shows an interest in their needs. A federation that would do a post mortem of their failed 2019 World Championships in Doha. 

They need a person that can ask medal prospects like long jumpers Ruswahl Samaai and Luvo Manyonga what went wrong and how they can be assisted. A person that can help Akani Simbine to go from fourth place in the 100m to top three.

World 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk has not seen any international action for two years. Photo: Claudio Onorati

While it is easy to criticise ASA for not doing enough to support its athletes, they should be commended for making an effort, albeit a small one.

Among the proactive steps is appointing former world junior 200m champion Paul Gorries as national relay coach in Pretoria.

South Africa’s men’s 4x100m relay team has the potential to win a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The South African 4x100m relay team made up of Simbine, Simon Magakwe, Thando Dlodlo and Clarence Munyai finished fifth in Doha in 37.73. The team raced to a new South African and continental record of 37.65 the night before.

Japan won bronze in a new Asian record time of 37.43 seconds with only two of their athletes boasting sub-10 second personal best times.

South Africa currently has six active athletes that have dipped under 10 seconds ...

The national squad also includes three incredibly talented 400m hurdles athletes that are just 19 including world youth and junior world champions Sokwakhana Zazini and Zeney van der Walt.

National 400m hurdles record-holder LJ van Zyl has offered his assistance in guiding these youngsters. The 2020 Olympics may be too soon for the three youngsters but their potential is immense.

The Springboks’ third World Cup victory over the weekend once again proved South Africa has the talent to conquer the world. But talent will come to nought without expert guidance.


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