Games hopefuls in PE | SASCOC - SASCOC

Games hopefuls in PE

By Mark Etheridge

LJ van Zyl merely has to turn out at this weekend’s Yellow Pages national track and field championships in Port Elizabeth to seal his spot aboard Team South Africa’s SAA flight to the London Olympics later this yearÔǪ but for others it’s not that easy a task.

The fact that Van Zyl medalled at world champs in South Korea last year, he was the fastest 400m hurdler in the world last year and has already bettered the qualifying target of 49.50sec on local soil this year, means he’s a shoo-in.

It will only be his second 400m hurdles event of the season, but knowing Van Zyl he’s going to be using every chance he gets to hone his technique and analyse his fitness levels. Fellow 400m hurdler Cornel Fredericks achieved a qualifying team at world champs but has been very quiet on the local scene until now.

Two of the big names set to hog the headlines again during the two-day championships that start Friday and end Saturday will be Oscar Pistorius and Caster Semenya.

Pistorius has already bettered the 45.30 A standard in the flat 400m in international competition. Now he needs to do it locally as well as compete at the nationals to cement his side in the team and become the first Paralympian track and field athlete to compete at an able-bodied Olympics.

Semenya, 2009 world 800m champion before gender allegations tore her life apart for more than a year, is at long last starting to show some decent form again and will be looking to target the 1:59.90 A standard at the championships. Her silver at last year’s world champs (1:56.35) all but secured her place on the team. Now she just needs to run that time locally, as well as compete at the championships.

It’s hard to believe but she’s still just 21 years old and provided she keeps injuries (she had a long-suffering back problem after her return to competition) should have many years ahead of her.

Coached by three-time world 800m champion Maria Mutola, Semenya was in confident mood this week. Despite ‘only’ having run 2:03.60 at the Potchefstroom leg of the Yellow Pages series last year, she should certainly go close to 2min at the coast.

“I am capable of running below two minutes so I will try to run it, as long as the weather is good,” Semenya told Sapa. “”It is good to have the experience of an Olympic athlete [Mutola]. I am confident but I have not done enough racing.”

Meanwhile the sprint events see three-time SA 100m champion Simon Magakwe look for a fourth title. His 10.15 A standard qualifier in Pretoria last week makes him a clear favorite in this event and with 200m champion Wayde van Niekerk still out of action with a hamstring injury he’s odds on favourite to take both sprint titles after his 20.38 in Potchefstroom last month. In the same race Thuso Mpuang and Lebogang Moeng also dipped under the qualifying mark so this looks to be pick of the sprints at the championships.

Van Zyl’s hurdling counterpart but in the 110m distance, Lehann Fourie, had a good indoor season as well as flying 13.31 in Florida last week but the following wind was too strong. This classy athlete though, should be able to qualify easily enough before the Games. Staying with obstacles and the seemingly ageless Ruben Ramolefi will also be looking to qualify in the 3000m steeplechase after going pretty close in Stellenbosch last month, where he ran an 8:27 (qualifying mark 8:23).

The women’s sprints are wide open and Carina Horn is going to be under pressure to defend her two titles. Tsholofelo Thipe has at last started realizing her huge potential and heads into both sprints as favorite after her 11.70 season’s best in Potchefstroom and her fifth-fastest in the world 22.89sec, also in Potchefstroom.

Junior Justine Palframan (23.22sec this year) won’t be in the 200m as she’s focusing on the 400m at the championships. She may have run both but the schedule is a big demanding on a teenager with the just the 400m heats and sets taking place on Friday.

Other events with particular significance will be the 1500m where US based Peter van der Westhuizen will be hoping to run a qualifying time (will there be pacers?) after failing at Stellenbosch late last month and the men’s 800m where 2009 world champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi continues his qualifying quest. He’s chasing 1:45.60.

Our best men’s javelin exponent, Robert Oosthuizen is still coming back from a shoulder injury and is a long way off the personal best 84.38 he threw in Doha at the beginning of last year.

In the women’s field events, like Oosthuizen, Sunette Viljoen is coming back from injury, in her case a lower back injury but her recent inactivity has been more precautionary than pain-related. She’s already qualified at world championships last year and like Van Zyl her inclusion is all but guaranteed should things go well. In the women’s triple jump, archrivals Patience Ntshingila and Charlene Potgieter measure up again. The two have both broken the national mark this season but have some way to come into the Olympic equation. Ntshingila’s national mark of 13,89m is still 41cm off the A mark.

The pick of the men’s field events should be the long jump where our sole silver medallist from the Beijing Olympics, Khotso Mokoena comes up against heir apparent Luvo Manyonga.

They’ll both be chasing the 8.20m qualifying mark. Manyonga is one step (make that one centimetre!) ahead after his leap of 8.21m at last year’s world championships. Mokoena campaigned on the overseas indoor circuit earlier this year and the championships will be his local outdoor debut.

Manyonga is a young man with just as much talent to take him as far as Mokoena and some say even beyond.

Will this weekend be the time he shows it or will the infamous Port Elizabeth turn up and blow our athlete’s Olympic dream out of the window?