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Race on in Stellenbosch

By Mark Etheridge

The qualifying race to make Team South Africa at this year’s Olympic Games in London takes another stride with the opening Yellow Pages track and field series at Stellenbosch on Tuesday night.

Weather permitting ÔÇô it’s going to be hot but here’s hoping the wind stays away ÔÇô the middle distance events look like providing the main action.

Talk is of a qualifying bid by Pieter van der Westhuizen in the men’s 1500-metre but the Gauteng athlete is fully aware of the tough task to run even a B-standard qualifing mark of 3min 38.00sec.

“Realistically a qualifying time is very difficult to run without the race being set up with pacemakers taking us through the first half,” he told Road to London 2012 on Monday. “But I’ll have a go and if the weather and wind play along it should be a good race.”

Van der Westhuizen wanted to nail that qualifying time down at the recent interprovincial in Bellville but a strong wind saw him having to settle for a 3:41.74 win.

Hopefully the fact that there’s a sprinkling of international athletes in the race ÔÇô Belgium’s Kim Ruell, Mauritius’ Louis Boisseque and Namibia’s Johannes Skrywer ÔÇô will serve as extra incentive for Van der Westhuizen who spends much of his year based in the United States.

“Apart from this meeting I plan on running a 800m in Potchefstroom on Saturday for some speed work and then SA champs before I head back to the States to get ready for the US and European season.”

Staying with distance and the men’s 5000m should also be worth watching with the in-form Elroy Gelant lining up in this latest race of what is already a busy season for the young Potchefstroom athlete. He’s already won the national cross-country trials, raced the 3000m at the World Indoor Championships in Turkey and then, most recently, raced the African cross-country championships in Cape Town at the weekend.

Gelant will be joined by multi-talented Stephen Mokoka (already qualified in the marathon for London 2012), Gladwin Mzazi who won in Bellville recently as well as former SA cross-country champion Boy Soke. They’ll be eying the 13min 20sec A standard qualifying mark. Some of the Kenyans who ran off with the team title at African championships have stayed on which should ensure a genuine pace.

SA 3000m steeplechase recordholder Ruben Ramolefi is part of the line-up for this event and should give us an indication of what shape is in at this early stage of the season. He ran 8:11.50 at World Championships last year and that’s some way quicker than the A-standard qualifying mark of 8:23.10 in this event.

Shot putter Burger Lambrechts is back from World Indoors where he failed to get past qualifying after injuring a finger. He’ll be out to make amends after that disappointment.

In the women’s programme Wenda Theron will be looking to continue a fine 2011 which saw her make the semi-finals of the 400m hurdles at World Championships and then go on to win silver in the same event at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique later in the year.

It’s unclear whether middle-distance ace Mapaseka Makhanya will run the 800 or 1500m event tonight. To qualify in the two-lapper she’ll need to run 1:59.90 (A) or 2:01.30 (B), a fair bit quicker than the 2:06.25 she ran at that windy Bellville interprovincial.

The main programme gets underway at 5.30pm with the last event scheduled for 9.05pm.


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