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SA’s para-athletics stars out to seal Rio 2016 slots in Qatar
- Updated: October 16, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
The road to the 2016 Rio Paralympics features another important stopover for South Africa’s finest para-athletes next week as they dust themselves off for duty at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
The Championships run from 22-31 October and the 23-strong team jetting off on Saturday will surely not need more incentive to perform than knowing that excellence will be rewarded with Paralympic slots for South Africa.
Long-standing para-athletics coach Suzanne Ferreira, named Maties Coach of the Year this week, will be one of a strong coaching/management team and was also part of Team South Africa at the 2012 Paralympics.
And she says it’s going to be tricky judging just where the athletes are in terms of competitiveness, due to the scheduling of the event.
‘With spring only recently having arrived in South Africa there really weren’t any competition opportunities to measure where the athletes are. So this was quite a challenge in the lead up to worlds. But looking around the world it was the same dilemma for all,’ she told Road to Rio 2016.
‘The timing of the IPC athletics world championships is really in between seasons both for the Southern and Northern hemispheres. So it’s really very difficult to predict who’s in good shape with the lack of competition opportunities we’ve had in the last three months leading into worlds.’
Emphasising how important Doha is to next year’s Paralympics, she said: ‘We get to generate slots for the country. If an athlete comes first or second he/she can generate one slot for the country for Rio and then the other slots will be calculated based on the qualification times within the period allocated towards generating slots. This period is till the end of next March.’
And the obvious motivation for worlds, if needed, is that is offers the athletes an invaluable chance to compete against the globe’s best. ‘Most of the time the full field in each athlete’s class only compete against each other at World or Paralympic level, and it’s very important for the athletes to compete against their peers. This will give them a very good idea of how he or she will manage the pressure at the Games and might highlight some important psychological aspects to work on and fine tune towards Rio.
‘In general I think it’s a very good team that’s been selected with most of the athletes in the top eight in the world in their best events so I’m excited to see how the athletes will perform on this big platform.’
One of those athletes is already an accomplished performer on the global platform.
A treble Paralympian, Ilse Hayes raced to a T13 world record 11.89 at the Brazil Grand Prix but missed out on last month’s African Games with a back injury.
‘But my back is doing much better now. I’ve had a few good training sessions over the past few days and getting really excited for Worlds now. I’m doing the 200m and the 100m, two days apart,’ Hayes (pictured above) told Road to Rio 2016.
‘The 100m will be my main event and at this stage I just want to do my best. An injury is never great but it makes you grateful for what you have and you once again just appreciate your health.
‘So I’m really grateful to get on that plane on saturday and go do what I love….go and run and glorify Gods name,’ said the 2015 Maties Disabled Sportswoman award-winner.
Hard to believe but it’s 13 years ago already that Hayes won her first major title when she won 400m gold at the 2002 IPC Champs in Lille, France.
Also there in Doha will be 2012 Paralympics bronze medallist and African Games 200m gold medallist Jonathan Ntutu, and like Hayes, Western Cape based.
‘I’ll just be doing the short sprints, the 100 and 200m, in Doha,’ he said this week. ‘ A lot can go wrong in the T12 competition so winning every race you’re in is vital to being in that final.
‘I’m confident and trust that my prep has gone well. I want two medals and in the 200m I stand a great chance to win my first gold in the WC. I think two personal best (PB) races are on the cards. And I cant wait.’
Currently, his bests are 10.98 and 22.09 for the two events.
Johannesburg’s Andrea Dalla Ave will travel to Doha in buoyant mood after being named Gauteng Sportsman of the year with a disability.
Also a 2012 Paralympian, the athlete who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, is focusing on one event in Doha. He’s opted to concentrate on the long jump this time round.
‘I’m only doing my main event there this year so I won’t be as busy as normal. I want to focus fully on that. It’s only on the 29th so it’s pretty late in the competition as well.’
Another African Games team member is Durban’s Tyrone Pillay will be looking to build on his gold medal in the F42 shot put event.
‘The line-up is probably one of the best ever, with 13 athletes entered,’ said the 35-year-old. ‘Eight of the top 10 shot-putters in the world will be there. The African champ European champ, Pan-American champ and Asian champ are all there so it’s going to be an epic competition.
Pillay will go into the competition ranked sixth in the world. ‘I think anything over 13.5m would be a good day for a distance but on the day anything can happen. The conditions in Qatar will be quite challenging with the heat so we just have to see what happens.
‘But whatever, I’m really looking forward to it and just honoured to be in the team and wearing the green and gold.’
Team SA’s trip to the IPC Athletics World Championships is made possible by sponsors Nedbank, SASOL, Sport and Recreation SA, the National Lottery Distribution Fund, 361º and SAA.