There has been steady progress for South Africa’s athletics on the world stage since 2013, when the track-and-field team brought just one medal home from the IAAF World Championships in Russia.
Contributing significantly to the team’s upward trajectory have been the achievements of Wayde van Niekerk and the return to form of Caster Semenya. The two athletes went as far as clinching double medals each at the last edition of the championships in London two years ago.
Now, with the two out of contention for this year’s showpiece – set to take place from Friday to October 6 in Doha, Qatar – South Africa finds itself engaged in discussions about whether the 31-member squad announced this week by Athletics SA (ASA) is capable of a podium finish.
“When you talk about Caster and Wayde, there is no denying the fact that their efforts in doubling events pushed up our tally of medals at the London world championships,” said ASA excellence manager Hezekiél Sepeng.
Team SA racked up six gongs – three gold, a silver and two bronze – to finish third on the final table at the 2017 edition.
Semenya’s 800m gold and 1 500m bronze medals, as well as Van Niekerk’s 400m gold and 200m silver medals, catapulted South Africa to third in the world rankings – an improvement from a three-medal tally in Beijing in 2015.
Sepeng believes that the long jumpers and the relay teams have proved to be medal contenders in previous competitions, and that Doha should also serve as a hunting ground.
He tipped defending world champion Luvo Manyonga and 2017 bronze medallist Ruswahl Samaai – both long jump specialists – as well as sprinter Akani Simbine for a podium finish.
“We have athletes who are capable of winning medals. Take Luvo or Ruswahl or Akani, who, on any given day, can bring us a medal.
“We are also hoping for a medal from the relay teams, who have won in past championships,” said Sepeng.
“I believe we have had better preparations compared with the last time. Our guys went to the IAAF World Relays – held in Yokohama, Japan, in May – as part of our preparations for Doha. Five of our relay members have been in camp in Gemona, Italy, on a week-long training programme.”
The Gemona list includes sprinter Simon Magakwe, who returns to his first global track and field competition since his last appearance at the 2011 edition in South Korea.
Magakwe (33) was banned in 2014 for not agreeing to an out-of-competition doping test.
Now back to form with a season best of 10.05 seconds under his belt, Magakwe is adamant that Team SA can deliver without their proven stars.
“It is always great for the sport and the country to have Wayde and Caster in the team, but we have to focus on what we have to do. We all have a job to do as individuals,” Magakwe told City Press from Italy, adding that the country was blessed to have a strong relay squad.
He, along with Simbine, helped the 4x200m quartet clinch a silver medal at the world relays in Yokahama.
Simbine also anchored the 4x100m team, whose national record of 38.24 seconds earned them a runner-up spot at the Commonwealth Games, held on Australia’s Gold Coast last year.
Meanwhile, only five women make up the 31-member Doha-bound team. This paltry representation has been exacerbated by the provisional suspension of national 100m record holder Carina Horn, who will miss the championship because of doping charges.
The team will depart for Qatar on Tuesday.