South Africa's Caster Semenya, left,   on her way to win the 800 meter race  at an athletics meeting in Haldesleben, Germany, Sunday July 15, 2012. (AP Photo/dapd/Jens Schlueter)
South Africa's Caster Semenya, left, on her way to win the 800 meter race at an athletics meeting in Haldesleben, Germany, Sunday July 15, 2012. (AP Photo/dapd/Jens Schlueter)

Great expectations of medals for Semenya and Viljoen

By SAPA Time of article published Jul 18, 2012

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Ockert de Villiers

The only two women in the 13-member track and field contingent, Caster Semenya and Sunette Viljoen, will carry the weight of a nation, with SA’s medal hopes resting heavily on the shoulders of the athletics squad at the Olympic Games.

When the previous Games were held in Beijing, Semenya was an unknown 16-year-old from a dusty, rural town in Limpopo. Four years later she is considered SA’s greatest medal prospect.

Semenya set a national record of 1:55.45 to win the world title in Berlin in 2009, brushed off controversy about her sex, and reaffirmed her status as one of the world’s top 800m runners when she secured silver at last year’s global championships in Daegu.

Viljoen, meanwhile, has been the epitome of consistency and has shown steady progression over the past four years, improving her personal best by 7m since the Beijing Games. The 28-year-old will arrive at her third Olympics as the No 1 women’s javelin thrower in the world after producing another national record of 69.39m at the New York Diamond League meeting last month.

And while the SA men’s athletics team have been hit by injury – middle distance veteran Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was unavailable – they will also hope to push the country up the medals table.

Long-jump ace Khotso Mokoena saved the country from complete embarrassment in Beijing when he clinched the team’s solitary medal, bagging silver. Mokoena, known for his big-match temperament, will head to London with similar expectations. While he has been inconsistent and battled with injuries, his ability to strike when least expected will be a major factor.

One-lap hurdler LJ van Zyl has gone from strength to strength after he finished fifth in the Chinese capital four years ago. Last year he started his season off by smashing the SA record when he clocked 47.66 seconds in Pretoria. He went on to set the four fastest times of the season and secured the bronze medal at the global championships. Injury has taken a toll on his preparations for the Games, but Van Zyl remains confident.

While he won’t be in contention for a medal in the individual 400m event, double-amputee Oscar Pistorius is likely to create more hype than any of his teammates.

Pistorius, cleared four years ago to run against able-bodied athletes, is not travelling to London as a spectator. He’ll be there to compete.

Having reached the semi-finals in Daegu last year, the “Blade Runner” will hope to produce a similar performance at the Games, though he stands a chance of making history in the 4x400m relay. Pistorius will be joined by Van Zyl, Fredericks, Ofentse Mogawane, Willie de Beer and Shaun de Jager in the relay squad. – Sapa

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