2013 annus horribilis

2013-12-28 00:00

THE 13th year of the third millennium certainly was not a good one for athletics in South Africa.

The year was overly punctuated by legal wrangling, boardroom battles, and what the Sascoc (South African Sports Congress and Olympic Committee) appointed administrator aptly referred to as “shenanigans”.

The current situation sees an interim board of seven claiming to have removed the existing ASA board (elected in 2012), who in turn claims that the removal is flawed by incorrect constitutional procedure, and a lack of formal mandate at provincial level.

The sport’s suspension from Sascoc in June remains in place and going into 2014 the biggest losers could again be the athletes, whose participation in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is on a knife-edge.

In May the International Association of Athletic Federations, (IAAF), insisted that Sascoc sort out the problems internally, and in January IAAF will be sending a representative to South Africa in the hope of finding a resolution and future direction. With both groups digging in to defend positions, there is little light even for those who claim to see the end of a directionless tunnel.

Provincially, the resignation of executive and commission members saw 12 replacements recommended at a council meeting and awaiting ratification.

Comrades Marathon Association was not without feud either with a revamp of the constitution and a “truth and reconciliation” style meeting bringing a tentative way forward as the 92-year-old race heads towards its 89th event on June 1, 2014 with over 18 000 entries.

On the positive side, local funding has been secured for a development project that aims to assist younger athletes in their ambitions towards national recognition and the Rio 2016 Olympics. However, the shadow of darkness at ASA is impacting on the provincial processes.

Doping was also front and centre in 2013, with first the good news that Ludwick Mamabola was re-instated as the 2012 Comrades winner, and despite only limited preparation, his comeback took him to fourth on race day. However, the year saw a number of positive tests, including those of Natalia Volgina who won the 2013 Two Oceans Marathon and Cape Town Marathon winner Lindhikaya Mthangayi.

South Africa continues to be amongst the top countries for positive tests, although that may as much be due to the regular testing process, as it is about abuse.

Internationally, 2013 saw questions over testing in both Jamaica and Kenya impacting on both sprint and distance performances. A world conference in South Africa will see much stiffer penalties for doping from January 1.

The Boston Marathon bombing in April killed three, injured 264 and sent shivers down every major race organiser’s back. Tighter security surrounds every event and the 2014 Boston Marathon will be the largest ever as the city plans to rebel against such deeds.

Back home, the Valentine’s Day shooting of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorious left South Africans reeling as the courts try to determine whether it was accidental or intentional.

This removed the paraplegic superstar from the team to the World Championships, as was Olympic Silver 800 m medallist Caster Semenya, who ran out of qualifying time to compete in Moscow following knee surgery.

Despite the turmoil, South Africa sent one of its largest ever teams to Russia. Although Johan Cronje was the sole medallist, earning a bronze in the 800 m in the final days, there were many youngsters who benefited from the early blooding of senior competition.

Cronje bagged the medal with a tenacious run that could lay the foundation for a further improvement on his SA record time of 3:33,46, which he set in Doha in May, erasing Johan Landsman’s 20-year-old record.

KZN sprinter Justine Palframan, long jumper Lynique Prinsloo, shot putter Orazio Cremona and discus thrower Victor “Hulk” Hogan, who finished fifth in Moscow, were amongst the younger team members who should find the going easier in the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

The competition in Glasgow will only be slightly easier for Anaso Jobodwana, who again had South Africans on the edge of their seats as he made it through to the 200 m final to finish sixth against Usain Bolt, and threatened to be the first South African under 10 seconds for the 100 m.

Decathlete Willem Coertzen set a new African record finishing ninth, with Olympic silver medal long jumper Khotso Mokoena taking seventh place overall.

An 8,3 m leap by Zarck Visser saw him come through as heir apparent for the aging Mokoena, who will probably bow out after Rio 2016.

Distance runners featured towards the end of the year, with Lusapho April’s third-place at the New York City Marathon a welcome light amongst the administrative darkness.

Stephen Mokoka improved both his 5 000 m and 10 000 m bests in 2013, won the Great South 10 mile run, and finished the year off with a win in the Shanghai Marathon in 2:09:29.

Amongst the women, Irvette van Zyl reduced her marathon best to 2:31:36, which saw her finish 10th in the London Marathon.

Meanwhile, diversity was the name of the game for previous South African 800 m champion Mapaseka Makhanya. Not only did she completely dominate the annual Spar 10 km series, but she also won her marathon debut in Gauteng in two hours, 37 minutes and six seconds.

Provincially, Jenna Challenor came out as the most prolific senior of the year, and finished seventh in the Spar Ladies’ 10 km Grand Prix.

Melanie van Rooyen, the SA Marathon bronze medallist, and Kerry Koen earned their eighth and ninth gold medals respectively in Comrades, with Van Rooyen rounding the year off with a new 2:44:40 best when winning the PE marathon early in December.

The local men are less clear cut with Siyabonga Nkonde the more successful at the short distances and finishing tenth in the SA 10 km Championships, while Petros Sosibo was the best of the provincial athletes in the marathon championships where he slipped under the two hours, 30 minute barrier by three seconds and was the first in the 40-49 age group.

Bongwani Zwane earned bronze in the 12 km SA XC Championships, which should put him in with a chance of competing on the world level.

However, arguably the most outstanding results for local male athletes was that of Lucas Nel (90-94 years age group) who won five gold medals in 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 800 m and 1500 m in Brazil and the World Masters Championships. Nel missed out on the 400 m world record by 0,6 of a second, when he completed the single lap in 1.35,64,

With the clock ticking down over the next 72 hours there is every reason to wave 2013 goodbye as an Annus Horribilis, and perhaps if the administrative side of athletics can show just a hint of the promise of some of the athletes, 2014 can bring hope for the future.

The feature of the year will be Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games in July, and KZN hopes for a turn-around commencing with the annual Ronnie Davel 16 km race in Hilton on January 12.

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