Disaster in Doha as Team SA's hopes fade

Akani Simbine came agonisingly close to winning a medal in the 100m final. Picture: DIEGO AZUBEL/ epa
Akani Simbine came agonisingly close to winning a medal in the 100m final. Picture: DIEGO AZUBEL/ epa

Team SA’s underwhelming performances at the IAAF World Championships in Qatar will certainly raise doubts about the country’s prospects at the Olympic Games next year.

By Friday, South Africa had not won a single medal and the country’s expectations had virtually faded when the men’s 4x100m relay team revived the nation’s hopes with their qualification for last night’s final.

The quartet of Thando Dlodlo, Simon Magakwe, Clarence Munyai and Akani Simbine cruised into the final in 37.65 seconds, which sliced 0.29 seconds off the 22-year-old African record held by Nigeria.

However, the full picture for Team SA will be clearer later tonight, when the curtain comes down on the global track and field competition in Doha. By then, the results of the team’s remaining few contestants will be known.

At the time of going to print, the men’s 4x400m relay was due to line up in the heats last night with the hope that they would have progressed to the medal contest on the final day.

Middle-distance runner Dominique Scott was also due to race in the women’s 5 000m final last night, while 100m hurdler Rikenette Steenkamp was also scheduled to start her campaign.

Although the task appeared to be daunting in Doha, it still seemed impossible considering the talent in the group that was picked for the championships. Expectations were that sprinter Simbine and long jumpers Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai would bring back medals. However, all of them fell short of their targets (see sidebar).

There is no denying the fact that the absence of defending world champions Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk was felt. In the words of veteran jumper Khotso Mokoena: “All is not lost, but a few aspects can bring about hope looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics next year.

“For next year, we’ll probably pull away with some medals if we get a few things right as Team SA,” said Mokoena, an Olympic silver medallist.

“We must first have a solid stable domestic season, followed by consistent training camps as a team. Training camps give the feel of the championships, but, at the moment, I think there is not enough base support.”

At least Athletics SA (ASA) had the relay team on a week-long training camp in Italy before the Doha championships, and it showed in their performances.

“We have to look into punching a lot of support into the sport and make athletes feel that there is enough base support,” said Mokoena, adding that he would give it another try and qualify in the long jump for Tokyo next year.

There were a few positives from Doha, though, with sprinter Dlodlo (20) and 400m hurdles rising star Zenéy van der Walt (19) emerging as runners to keep an eye on.

ASA officials might argue that there is no need to feel embarrassed by Team SA’s performances in Doha, but if the athletes return empty-handed, the federation’s president, Aleck Skhosana, would have presided over the worst showing by a track and field team since the championships in Osaka, Japan, in 2007.

Even the return of a single medal would have matched the 2013 edition, where the team ended the championships with an unlikely gong – the 1 500m bronze from Johan Cronje.

ASA has 10 months to get it right for the Olympics.

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