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DREAMING OF RAIN

Van Niekerk, Simbine hold South Africa’s hopes of World Athletics Championships medals

Van Niekerk, Simbine hold South Africa’s hopes of World Athletics Championships medals
Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa runs in the heats of the mens 400m during the Athletics event on Day 9 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on 1 August, 2021 Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)

Team South Africa’s best hopes of breaking their six-year World Athletics Championship medal drought will come from their formidable lineup of sprint athletes. The competition starts this Saturday in Budapest.

On Monday, Athletics South Africa (ASA) set 36 track and field athletes off to compete against the best in the world in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

The last time South Africa received a medal at the Championships was in London in 2017 — when they racked up six medals, two gold, one silver and two bronze.

In the two following Championships, in Doha, Qatar and Eugene, USA, South Africa returned home without reaching the podium.

It has been six years of agony but with a strong contingent of athletes off to Budapest, the hopes of at least one medal have been reignited.

South Africa’s best hopes of gold medal lies with 400m world record holder, Wayde van Niekerk.

The talented sprinter has suffered several setbacks since achieving the incredible 43.03sec mark at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. But, for the first time in five years, he looks close to his best again.

Van Niekerk has won all seven of his races this season with a fastest time of 44.08sec — the fourth fastest in the world this year — although he has yet to break 44 seconds.

Akani Simbini, World Athletics Championships

Akani Simbini during the 100m Realy during the Varsity Athletics Challenge at Coetzenburg Stadium on 15 April, 2013 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. (Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images)

Sprinters on track

Van Niekerk will face stiff competition in the 400m sprint from compatriot Zakithi Nene who recently grabbed a gold medal at the Diamond League in Stockholm last month.

The 25-year-old sprinter ran an impressive time of 45.30sec to take first place at the start of July.

“I’ve been competing with most of [the other athletes] on the circuit in Europe so I’ve got their numbers, I know what to expect,” Nene said to SABC News at the team’s departure event.

“I’ve got Wayde [van Niekerk] that I need to worry about — a fellow countryman and the world-record holder… The fact that I can go head-to-head against him, I believe I can challenge anyone in the world.”

South Africa has also entered a fierce 100m relay team consisting of 100m sprint hopefuls Akani Simbine, Shaun Maswanganyi and Benjamin Richardson.

The two 200m sprint athletes, Luxolo Adams and Sinesipho Dambile make up the rest of the team.

Simbine, as usual, heads into the 100m sprint event as a firm favourite — although he is yet to reach the podium at the World Athletics Championships.

“I’m a 100m sprinter, and if I don’t see myself being on a podium, then I shouldn’t be doing it,” Simbine told World Athletics in a recent interview.

The multiple national champion is in fine form. Simbine has won two Diamond League races, including beating reigning 100m world champion Fred Kerley of the US in Silesia, Poland, in July.

Simbine heads to Budapest with a season-best time of 9.92 seconds, which he ran in the semi-finals of the national championships in Potchefstroom, North West, in March.

Shaun Maswanganyi

Shaun Maswanganyi of South Africa in the semi final of the men’s 100m during the evening session of the Athletics event on Day 9 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on 1 August, 2021 Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

No holiday

Of the 36 athletes off to Budapest, 12 are female athletes. The experienced Irvette van Zyl will be toiling for a medal in the marathon event.

“I really want to obtain a good position and then to run a personal best would be a bonus,” Van Zyl said.

“I’m in better shape than the time I ran my qualifiers so I’m really looking forward to the race.”

ASA president James Moloi added that the team sent to the World Athletics Championship was done so with an eye to the Paris Olympic Games next year.

“Despite a limited budget, we are striving to give upcoming athletes the opportunity to compete at the highest level,” Moloi said.

“The more athletes we have in a team, the better chances of competing for medals. But with this team, we are looking beyond Budapest as this is our future squad for the Olympics next year.

“These are the warriors we are sending to battle and to hold the flag high.

“We believe in them and we encourage them to do the same. As they go along with the battle they must also enjoy themselves in the process, but this is no holiday.”

The nine-day World Athletics Championships will be held in Budapest between 19-27 August 2023. DM 

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