Athletic-centric management could be key to team SA’s success

2013-08-10 00:00

THE South African athletics team had their first full day in Moscow in preparation for the World Championships that begin in the 1980 Olympic Stadium today.

If medals measure success, the team may return on August 19 as paupers, but in the first year of a new Olympic cycle, the 26 athletes may well provide the light and inspiration to counter the months of boardroom disruption that threatens to destroy the sport at home.

One major asset in their drive for glory is what can only be described as the most athletic-centric management and coaching support of the past decade.

Both Magda Botha and Glen Bentley are passionate and committed coaches who will give the class of 2013 the focus that has long been missing in SA teams.

There are six specialist event coaches, including Mohamed Ally, the previous head of the KZN coaching committee who left the province to head up sport at Stellenbosch University.

This will be a particular benefit to KwaZulu-Natal-bred 200 m sprinter Justine Palframan, who is also now Boland-based and will hope to improve on her 23,22 personal best to gain a chance of making the semi-final.

Improvements and experience are key to many of the younger team members who will gain considerably from the experience afforded from a selection that for the first time in recent years includes both A and B standard qualifiers.

Caster Semenya’s failure to qualify and Oscar Pistorius’s date in court have taken the media hype that followed the SA team over the past four years. That said, Anaso Jobodwana looks set to grab the limelight.

The sprinter was a surprise finalist in London, but with Yohan Blake (injured), Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell (doping) among the withdrawals, Jobodwana could well take it a stage further.

The U.S.-based student has clear objectives. “The main thing is to improve on my times. All I am interested in is getting a personal best in both events [100 m and 200 m], then eventually at the right time everything will happen,” said 20-year-old Jobodwana.

His wind-assisted 20-second 200 m, which completed the double sprint gold in the World Student Games last month, was below the SA record and also the 20,29 that has secured a place in the final of the last six senior World Championships. A time of 19,85 seconds is the fastest anyone has ever gone to climb onto the podium.

Few will look past Usain Bolt for the 200 m gold medal and even an improved world record, with countryman Warren Weir the only other contender to have broken 19,80 this year. The podium is more open than any time in the past decade.

World record holder Bolt is again favourite for the blue ribbon event where Justin Gatlin looks to be his closest competition. Given the limited field of 200 m contenders, a case could be made for Jobodwana to omit the 100 m, where his best of 10,10 seconds set in Russia at the Student Games, is borderline to make the final, in order to focus on the 200 m.

Javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen is the best of the medal hopes with her 69,35 m in New York last year, second to Barbora Spotakova’s 69,55 in London, but Viljoen has yet to show the same form this year. Mariya Abakumova threw 69,34m in March and a home crowd could see her spear spiking the ground even further out, and German Christina Obergfoll has the most recent form with 67,70m in May.

That said, field events are notorious for the exceptional among the abysmal. One smooth rhythmical effort where everything comes together can turn five no-performances into a podium place, and Viljoen is certainly capable of the distance to add to her championship glory.

The same is true of Olympic and World silver medal long jumper Khotso Mokoena. The senior team member has failed to hit form over the past two seasons, and sits a lowly 10th on ranking lists, but sixth best for the current year.

Zarck Visser joins Mokoena and could benefit from his experience, but the SA champion has not expanded on the potential shown by his 8,29 m qualifying leap in Stellenbosch.

The ability to adapt the speed and length of their run-up has been shown to be a major contributing factor to the medal outcome in past championships where 8,3 metres can claim a podium position.

Similarly, Lynique Prinsloo should make the final, but will need to be back to her 6,81 m “flying” best that secured her the SA title if she is to reach the historic range of podium places in the women’s long jump.

If Jobodwana, Visser and Prins­loo are the best of the young pretenders, then Mokoena, hammer thrower Chris Harmse, 41-year-old marathoner Hendrick Ramaala and LJ Van Zyl are the old guard.

Van Zyl is competing in his fifth world championships, with his best being the 400 m hurdle bronze medal in 2011 in Daegu.

Having failed to break 49 seconds since then, the 28-year-old knows he has to hold his pace to the line. “It’s going to take a 48,50 something to be sure of a final spot,” said Van Zyl, who may well be handing the leading SA hurdle mantle to Cornel Fredericks who clocked 48,78 in the SA champs in April and was fifth in his debut in Daegu.

PC Beneke, who was runner-up in Stellenbosch, gets his first World Championship outing and like many youngsters in the team, can benefit from Van Zyl’s experience.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity facing Ramaala is that of leadership.

The Johannesburg-based runner qualified with a 2:12 in Dubai in January 2012, but has moved into the boardroom and been a central player in the politics of the sport.

His recent times have given rise to much questioning about his selection, but his value to the team and the future of athletics will be tested by his actions.

The potential is great, and his actions on and off the competitive field can be telling to the sport and the adjudged success of the 2013 team.

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