Rio on their mind at SA Track Field Championships
The who’s who in South African athletes will be at Coetzenburg stadium in Stellenbosch on Friday and Saturday for the ASA Track and Field Championships, where qualifying for RIO will be top of mind for many.
Over the last three years the popular focus has switched towards the sprints, where the dreams of a sub 10 second have become a reality. The dramatic improvement pitches Akani Simbine, who set a new national record of 9.96 second in the first round of the After Dark Series at Pilditch, not only up against Henricho Bruitjies, Gift Leotlela and Clarence Munyai but also out to record a fast coastal time, which provides greater comparison to International performances.
Both Carina Horn and Alyssa Conley qualified for Rio in the first After Dark series, and there duo can again be expected to keep spectators on the edge of their seats in the 100 and 200m sprints, while South Africa’s Golden boy of the track, Wayde van Niekerk, is expected to be unstoppable in the one lapper. The World 400m Champion rewrote the records in the 200 metres last year, but it is yet to be seen if he will take a lane in the 200m as well as the relay.
Similarly Caster Semenya, who delighted spectators with her return to form in the double lapper at Green Point Stadium in March, will be out to return under the 2 minute mark, and may also turn out in the relays.
This will be one of the few times home spectators get to see the leading relays combinations compete.
The current crop and success of sprinting makes Saturday nights 100m and 400m relays of particular interest. With the 10 second barrier a thing of the past, the leading quartet could make the top half of an Olympic final. One of the vital keys will be practice and Saturday evening provides one such rare occasion for refining baton-exchange skills under pressure, and to run one of the World’s top 16 times, which would secure them a place for Rio.
Lj van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks will again compete for the 400m Hurdle title that van Zyl won back from Fredericks last year. Fredericks had a lack-lustre season last year but is on the comeback and his late start could be well timed to be on form come Rio, but if either of these stalwarts falter their TUKS/HPC clubmate Lindsay Hanekom will have no hesitation in picking up the podium pieces
Other stars who will be in action include SA 10km champion Elroy Galant, long jumpers Luvo Manyonga and Khotso Mokoena, race-walker Lebogang Shange and marathoner Stephen Mokoka who aims to defend his 10,000m title. Although the Gauteng North man has already qualified in the marathon, his preference is to race the 10,000m in the first South American Games.
For most athletes the ASA championships which open on Friday morning and run through to the relay events at 19:00 on Saturday night, form a critical block in the selection of athletes for the Rio Olympics.