South African athletics medal hopefuls, Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine showcased their star quality with solid performances at the SA Track and Field Championships that concluded in Pretoria yesterday.
Van Niekerk closed the show with a banger in the 200m final last night.
He won the race in 20.39 seconds, while his bosom friend Simbine affirmed his dominance over the 100m with a blistering 9.99 seconds in the final of the short dash on Friday.
Unlike many athletes who headed into the three-day competition at the University of Pretoria athletics track desperate to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, Simbine had provisionally booked his ticket to Japan, but he still came up tops.
On the opening day of the championships on Thursday, Simbine nearly shattered his national record, but a strong tailwind spoiled his time of 9.82s, meaning it doesn’t meet the requirements for ratification as a record mark.
Van Niekerk, who is heading to his first Olympics without his legendary coach “Tannie” Ans Botha, is the defending Olympic champion in the 400m event.
However, he is yet to run the 44.90s qualifying time since his return to racing in September after a long layoff due to a knee injury.
In the field events, javelin thrower Rocco van Rooyen of Western Province Athletics also met the benchmark for Tokyo. His throw of 85.25m was 25cm further than the standard entry distance.
With his feat, the 28-year-old qualified for his second Olympics. He made his debut at the 2016 Rio Games in Brazil.
Two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya is yet to attain qualification after she fell short in the 5 000m despite reclaiming the national title in the event. She ran a time of 15:52.28, well short of the qualifying time of 15:10.
The 30-year-old is entangled in a legal battle with World Athletics, which has barred her from competing in her favourite 800m and 1 500m races using the regulations that prevent women athletes with naturally high testosterone levels from competition – unless they take hormone-suppressing drugs.
Semenya had initially intended to compete in the 200m, but has been forced to shelve that.
Accomplished javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen also failed to nail a qualifying distance at the national championships. She lost the national title to Jo-Ané van Dyk on Thursday.
The road to the Tokyo Olympics will not be an easy one for most athletes around the world as they have been greatly disadvantaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many only returning to competition recently.
The national championships were the first in two years after last year’s event was cancelled due to Covid-19.
Domestic athletics competitions resumed last month after the country moved down to lockdown level 1.
The hopefuls have until July 4 to qualify for the Games. The deadline was extended due to the current challenges athletes are facing as a result of the pandemic.
The national champs in Pretoria were the last opportunity for South African athletes to book their Olympic tickets.
The focus now shifts to international competitions, and the Diamond League opens in the UK next month.
Team SA’s athletics team is slowly taking shape with 96 days to go before the start of the Olympics on July 23.
Those who have provisionally qualified are sprinter Clarence Munyai, distance runners Elroy Gelant, Desmond Mokgobu, Gerda Steyn and Irvette van Zyl, Ruswahl Samaai, Cheswill Johnson (both long jump), Wayne Snyman (20km walk), Zazini Sokwakhana (400m hurdles) and Antonio Alkana (110m hurdles).
Meanwhile, international media this week reported the growing calls for the Games to be postponed.
Japan is battling a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, but the organisers are adamant the Games will go ahead as scheduled.