More medals is SA hope at world champs

2009-05-10 00:00

WITH South Africa’s elite track and field athletes beginning to make their mark in the Golden League circuit, there seems a good chance the team for the World Athletic Championships in Berlin in August will outperform their predecessors of 2005 and 2007.

Since returning to the international arena, South Africa has only won 10 medals in the World Championships, including two from the relays. With Khotso Mokoena’s recent leap over 8,5 metres, and his victory over world number one Dwight Phillips in atrocious conditions in Lausanne on Tuesday night, there is reason to believe that the Olympic Silver medalist should make it to the podium.

Mbulaeni Mulaudzi already has a bronze from the 2003 edition in Paris and is beginning to reach form, and 1 500 metre athletes Johan Cronje and Peter van der Westhuizen have joined the band who have made the “A” qualification criteria set by Athletics South Africa (ASA).

Hurdler L.J. van Zyl looks to be building to the peak form that has seen him make previous finals. It is a truism that “once you get to the final anything can happen”.

Perhaps the marathons were the biggest disappointment of the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. In Helsinki, not one SA marathoner finished. It wasn’t that much better in Osaka, where last-minute arrival in Japan, and suicidal tactics, provided an inevitable result, with onl­y pride forcing two of the men to finish, while both women crossed the line.

ASA seem determined to ensure better results in 2009, with the marathon squad already ensconced in the Potchefstroom training camp under the guidance of long-time Kenyan athletics coach Danson Muchoki.

Simply having access to a coach is in itself a major step for many South African distance runners, but added to that the structure, support, and camaraderie that training together for 12 weeks provides, is what the American’s term a “no-brainer”.

In fairness, this is only possible with sufficient finance to allow the athletes to focus their attention on training and recovery. While this is their key to physiological progression, the psychological advantage of teamwork and a more structured preparation will do wonders for the confidence when they line up near Berlin’s famous Brandenburg gate.

Muchoki’s approach of train hard, compete easy has the runners training three times most days. It’s a step up for most, and along with a move from their coastal homes in Durban and Port Elizabeth, a large leap for Lusapho April and the sole woman marathoner, Tanith Maxwell.

Team work has become a feature of World Championship marathons, with Spain, France Ethiopia and Kenya masters of the destruction that a good race strategy can inflict on the opposition. Few will forget the way the Kenyans decimated the field in Beijing.

Team strategy has never been a priority in previous South African outings. If anything, there has been an internal race to be the first South African rather than combining strengths and weaknesses to launch the best on the day. It’s a hangover from the years of isolation that looks set to finally be lost as the team bond in Potchefstroom.

Although Enos Matalane has yet to report to camp and April yet to return this week after the Half-Marathon Championships, Norman Dlomo, Johannes Kekana, and Coolboy Ngamole make a useful core for a team where the first three times count. Western Province’s LindiKhaya Mthangayi accompanied Dlomo to the camp and his second place in the Half-Marathon champs showed the sort of improvement that can be obtained from focused training by taking almost two minutes from his personal best. Poppy Mlambo was drafted in to provide a training partner for Maxwell and based on her third place in the SA Championships she could well become a more permanent fixture if ASA commit to a women’s team to the Half-marathon Championships in October. The benefits of the camp alone are obvious, but combined with the high-profile Nedbank series events, and newly-introduced time-based incentive money for S A road runners, there is every reason to believe there will be a turn around in performances. This is unlikely to result much more than a top 10 team position in Berlin, but by 2012 there could be medals.

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