Virus puts Olympic swansongs

Simon Magakwe and his teammates will have to wait for next year to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. Picture:Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Simon Magakwe and his teammates will have to wait for next year to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. Picture:Christian Petersen / Getty Images

With the Olympic Games the latest sporting event to be postponed amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, a few Team SA hopefuls might have to stretch themselves one more time to boost their hopes of making the Tokyo Games their final appearance at the multicoded games – when they are eventually held.

This after the IOC this week confirmed the postponement of this year’s Olympics to next year.

Local stars such as long jumper Khotso Mokoena (35), sprinter Simon Magakwe (33), javelin champion Sunette Viljoen (36) and marathon king Stephen Mokoka (35) are some of South Africa’s track and field golden oldies who could see their Olympics farewell plans scuppered.

For now, the group has taken solace in the fact that the Olympics were not cancelled altogether.

It hurts, but human life is far more important during these trying times of the coronavirus.
Simon Magakwe

This presents them with another chance to chase their qualifying entry standards, while crossing their fingers that they will remain healthy and free of injury until a new date for the Games is set.

Magakwe told City Press: “It hurts, but human life is far more important during these trying times of the coronavirus. But am still on a mission to go to my first Olympics. At least I know that it’s just a year-long wait, not the usual four-year Olympic cycle.”

The multiple South African 100m champion was a shoo-in for the Tokyo Games, thanks to his impressive performances recently.

He was also part of the 4x100m relay team that was being prepared by Athletics SA as potential medal contenders at the global sporting showpiece in Japan.

Although pushing it a bit, Magakwe said having achieved several milestones at his age made him believe that he could emulate Kim Collins, the legendary sprinter from Saint Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies who, at the age of 40, was the oldest sprinter at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Remember, I am a late bloomer and I am kind of used to pushing the boundaries,” said the former national record holder over the short dash.

Meanwhile, Mokoena, who won a silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has been on a journey to reinvent himself.

The long and triple jump specialist has been to four Olympics in a row since his debut at the 2004 edition in Greece, and was going for his fifth appearance in Japan.

“It is really devastating that they had to move the Olympics. This is the year I had really prepared for retirement, trying to clinch a fifth Olympic [appearance] in a row. You know the universe speaks in a different way. I’ll probably look at retiring after the 2022 Commonwealth Games [in Birmingham in the UK]. So that means I continue to train hard and to stay in shape right now,” Mokoena said.

Just last week, he posted a 7.87m jump – his first competition over the distance in two years – since he switched to triple jump.

Read: Semenya, Thugwane, Brittain – athletes beating the odds

“That means I can easily improve half a centimetre from here on when I start to compete. With the triple jump, I think I’ll get to the 17.30m again. Somehow, I’m glad things have turned out this way. Yes, it’s not nice to prepare and then the Games get cancelled, but maybe there is something I still need to do. I’m sure this is a sign for every individual athlete to train and prepare a little bit better, and compete next year and produce more medals for the country.”

Mokoena is involved with the national coaching body, the SA Sports Coaching Association (Sasca), which is supported by Sascoc.

“There has not been a positive image for Sascoc for a while, but I think this is the time to turn things around. As a board member of the coaches committee, we just want to see athletes doing well.

“If Sascoc and Sasca can work together for the betterment of the coaches and athletes, we can produce more medals next year, as well as at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. South Africa must take this chance with both hands.

“I am appealing to the minister of sport, Sascoc, the coaches and athletes to come together and work out a strategy that’s going to benefit our chances for medals.”

The IOC is yet to confirm the new dates for the Olympics, but the organisers said the games would retain the Tokyo 2020 name, even with the change in scheduling.

This is the year I had really prepared for retirement, trying to clinch a fifth Olympic [appearance] in a row. You know the universe speaks in a different way.

Still, next year will be a bumper season for track and field athletes as most of the major international competitions have been moved forward by a year, which could also have been the year of the World Athletics Championships in the US.

Will Ronaldo and co reconsider?

Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, Belgium’s top striker Romelu Lukaku as well as German stars Toni Kroos and Manuel Neuer were among top global players who hinted at retiring from international football after this year’s Euros.

The month-long tournament was due to kick off in June, but has been postponed to next year, prompting questions about whether these top players will also move their last hurrahs.

Juventus striker Ronaldo (35) has been pestered with questions about when he will hang up his boots.

Late last year, he indicated that this year could be it, even though he insisted that he would play at club level until he was 40 or 41.

Lukaku, who left Manchester United for Inter Milan in July, revealed that he was planning to retire from international football after this year’s European Championship, despite the fact that he will be only 27.

The decision for Bayern Munich’s No 1, Neuer (33), could be based on the fact that he has won almost every major domestic and international title for club and country.

This includes the World Cup and the Champions League – his collection is only missing the European Championship medal.


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