Sunday, 09 July 2017 11:53

Great Sprinters, So Let's Not Drop Relay Baton

When one expresses one’s bewilderment at a clear lack of foresight from Athletics South Africa (ASA) to assemble a 4x100 metres relay team with world-class sprinters at their disposal, you are seen to be overly negative.

Inch after inch of column space has been dedicated to addressing ASA’s failure to capitalise on the wealth of rising sprinting talent in the country.

The lack of accountability so often seen in South African politics has infiltrated the country’s sport and revelations of ineptitude are brushed aside. Following the country’s failure to qualify a single relay team for the Rio Olympics, this is likely to also be the case at the IAAF World Championships in London next month.

This week the rest of the world’s media joined their SA counterparts asking why the country did not have a relay team ready to take on the rest of the world.

At a press conference ahead of the Lausanne Diamond League, 400m world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk was asked whether he would also race the 4x100m at the London World Championships next month. “I don’t think South Africa has qualified yet,” was his short and sharp reply.

The press conference carried on and it seemed the issue was gone and forgotten but the befuddled journalist asked a follow-up question a while later.

Given South Africa’s current wealth of sprinting talent with five athletes, including Van Niekerk boasting times between 9.90 and 10.10 seconds, why has the country not qualified a relay team?

“I guess, as a country we haven’t had the opportunity as much as we’d like and we just have to find a way to gel, find some chemistry, and get to know each other’s schedules,” Van Niekerk said diplomatically.

“There’s been too many clashes for when we can run as a team because it is obviously an individual sport and everyone is focused on qualifying and getting themselves into major competitions.

“It’s really out of my control. My control is running 100, 200, and 400s which is the only part I focus on.”

Scheduling the SA Senior Track and Field Championships at the same time as the IAAF World Relays was another example of ASA sabotaging their chances of qualifying relay teams for the global showpiece.

While the national championships have traditionally been scheduled for April, the country’s athletics administrators will have to find a solution for future World Relays.

ASA have made attempts to host relay camps this year with the aim of qualifying a team during the local season. Any progress is probably better than none but it is time to make a concerted attempt to give the country’s sprinters the best possible opportunity to win a sprint relay medal.

Imagine us bowing out of the World Championships with medals in the 100, 200, 400, and the 4x100m relay.

That would signal a major shift from Jamaica and the US to the southern point of Africa. SA sprinting is at the forefront, so let’s not drop the baton.

van Niekerk Hopes To Honor Bolt & Take Up Baton

JOHANNESBURG - Willing and able to be the heir to Usain Bolt’s throne as sprinting king, Wayde van Niekerk knows full well that the title won't be handed to him on a platter.
Speaking ahead of Thursday's Lausanne Diamond League meeting where he will be racing his first international 400m of the season, Van Niekerk said the year was about honouring Bolt for his track and field legacy.

“This year is really just time for us to go out there and thank him for what he had done for the sport and, obviously, as the new generation, I would like to take the baton and continue doing great things,” Van Niekerk said at an IAAF Diamond League press conference.

“Obviously, with that comes a lot of hard work and years, so I know for me right now is to focus on my performances and try and pull out good times as an athlete.”

The South African 400m world record-holder has been showing improvements in the shorter distances, racing to new personal bests in the 100, 200, and 300m so far this season.

Van Niekerk sprinted to a new South African 200m record in Kingston, Jamaica last month with a time of 19.84 seconds. He then shaved 0.04 off his 100m time of 9.94 in Velenje, 10 days later.

Last week he added another feather to his cap, when he broke another Michael Johnson world mark as he posted a new 300m world best of 30.81 seconds at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting.

He knocked 0.04 off the previous mark Johnson set in Pretoria back in 2000.

Judging by Van Niekerk’s form over all three distances, the question of whether he would become the first man to dip below 43 seconds over the one-lap sprint has instead changed to when he will do it.

The South African has proven that one can expect the ‘ridiculous’ every time he backs into the blocks.

All eyes will be firmly on the clock in Lausanne, where he will give the best indication of his form ahead of his world title-defence in London next month.

“I feel quite confident on how I’ve been performing so far, I definitely know I am in good shape when it comes to every single distance below 400 metres, except the 400m,” Van Niekerk said.

“I’m excited to see what foot will come first and how I will do, but you know me by now, I will put my best foot forward and try and put a good show out there.”

Five more South Africans will be in action in the Swiss city, including Rio Olympics women’s javelin silver medallist Sunette Viljoen.

Viljoen has been flying below the radar and will be competing in only her fifth meeting of the season. Her season’s best of 63.49m at the national championships in Potchefstroom in April, ranks her 11th in the world and she would be looking to take some form into the world championships.

South African short-sprint specialists, Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies, will have a second bite of the 100m cherry two days after racing in Budapest.

Simbine narrowly missed out on the top step of the podium when former world champion Justin Gatlin beat him to the line by 0.01 with Bruintjies missing out on a medal by the same margin.

South African record-holder Simbine posted his 14th sub-10 second time for his second place, with Bruintjies clocking a creditable 10.11.

The duo will again line up against Gatlin and fellow American Isiah Young, who finished third in the 100m race in Budapest.

The South African contingent is rounded off by one-lap hurdlers LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks as they look to chase down the A-qualifying standard for the world championships.

They will have to dip well below 49 seconds to earn their places of the global showpiece with the standard set at 48.50.

Van Zyl has a season’s best of 49.29, while Fredericks’ fastest time this year is 49.27.