Pistorius has a slim chance at World Champs

2011-08-20 00:00

THE SA Team to the World Athletics championships is being whittled down with withdrawals but could still make headlines before the event closes on September 4.

On paper the 32 track and field and marathon athletes looked to have the opportunity of equalling or improving on the 2003 medal count, which was the best showing by the country. That year Hestrie Cloete and Jaques Freitag dominated the high jumps, while Okkert Brits brought back silver in the pole vault and a young Mbulaeni Mulaudzi earned bronze in the 800.

However Mulaudzi, due to defend the gold he won in Berlin two years ago, this week withdrew due to an old injury. Caster Semenya is said to be nursing a back problem and withdrew from this week’s World Student Games in China in order to train for Korea.

The 20-year-old is a shadow of the athlete who blitzed her way to gold in Berlin, a performance that propelled her into the worldwide controversy regarding gender testing.

A dramatic improvement on her 13th place ranking will result in questions, while if on current performance she fails to even make the final, there will be questions over what treatment she may have been taking after the gender issue.

Khotso Mokoena, a silver medallist at the Olympics and World Championships, is another who has been off form.

With a new SA record under his belt in February and then a 44-second 400m time, L.J. van Zyl spent most of the season as the world number one for the 400 hurdles. A niggling hamstring saw him return home from the international circuit to recover and this season the Pretoria-based athlete maintained his form through to the line, but it is feared that the combination of the SA and International season has taken him over the edge.

The SA sprint squad, which includes Simon Magake Thuso Mpuang and Lebogang Moeng, will do well to get through the first two rounds, as would Oscar Pretorius in the 400m in a normal season. That said, it has been a quiet season in the one-lap event and three top-notch performances by Pistorius could get him on or near the podium. There is already considerable interest in the 4 x 400m relay where the blade runner could make the difference.

As the first double amputee to compete in an able-bodied competition he has been attracting a vast amount of controversial attention debating not only whether his J-shaped orthotics give him an overall advantage, but also the risks of him being knocked or losing his balance in the second and subsequent legs of the relay, which is run out of lanes.

The IAAF has commented that any decision on restricting the blade runner to the first leg of the relay would lie with the technical experts. Were that to happen South Africa would lose out, as there is no question that if Pistorius takes the baton with momentum he has the opportunity of posting one of the world’s fastest single-lap times.

Seven of the SA team have been in competition at the World Student Games, but the majority of these athletes will continue to Korea as part of a longer strategy to prepare for the 2016 Olympics where they could be at their prime. Together with the expected media attention over Pistorius and Semenya, it is possible that the South African team may gain more exposure for off- rather than on-track performances.

This is exacerbated by the inclusion of embattled KZN executive members Aleck Skhosana and Blanche Moila. Skhosana will today fly out as a team manager, while Moila has been nominated for an IAAF committee position by ASA.

The provincial body is under investigation from virtually all sides including the Hawks, the Lottery Board’s sports distribution division, and a forensic investigation by auditors. Following the council meeting of June 25, Skhosana himself restricted the auditor to look at only two projects under his management, which have already turned up extensive prima facie evidence of fraud. A full investigation, which the executive has resisted, is expected to uncover millions in misappropriated and misspent funds..

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