So, the World Athletic Championships have been concluded and for South Africa it makes pretty reading: six medals, third on the table behind the US and Kenya. Three golds, one silver and two of the bronze variety. The Rainbow Nations best showing ever at the global blue riband event. But, and it’s a big but, it could have been better.
South Africa’s medal haul was ahead that of China, hosts Great Britain, Jamaica and even distance powerhouse, Ethiopia. But, and it’s a big but, it could have been better. And no, I’m not talking about the incredible national record breaking effort of Lebogang Shangwe in the 20km walk to finish just 12 ticks of the clock off the podium. Or the heartbreak for young Clarence Munyai in the 200m who qualified for the semi’s but stepped out of his lane and was disqualified.
Or speedster Akani Simbine who was just not right in the 100m final and missed out on a medal. No sir. Those are not my gripes. It’s the 14 athletes who met International Association of Athletics Federation’s qualifying standards but were left twiddling their thumbs here at home. Imagine for a second – if you will – being LJ van Zyl, a world athletic champs medallist and two-time Olympian who has shown good form in the golden league meetings this year. There he is sitting at home, knowing that he was certainly finalist material and possibly a medal contender. Watching his event from his couch.
The time that was needed to qualify for a place in LJ’s event, the 400m hurdles semi-final was 50.12s. Yet Athletics South Africa in their infinite wisdom left no less than three (yes, that’s 3) athletes at home who produced sub 50 times comfortably in several meets around the world pre-London.
One of the men who did speak up about this was the self-same Akani Simbine who tweeted: “It’s all good and well when you want to groom talent but when there’s an opportunity to help the talent grow you shut the door on them.”
If you want to groom talent, go right ahead, but it takes old and wise heads such as an LJ to help the grooming process. It’s a case of been there done that. He would have been a stabilising force in the team in London.
There were 14 athletes who met the required standard who were left at home. Fourteen! And that’s by the world body and it’s qualifying criteria, not ASA’s rather ridiculous standards that are plucked out of the air and effectively are meaningless in the greater scheme of things. In fact, several national teams around the globe would battle to match these. Why? What is the need?
Henrico Bruintjies who was fast enough to qualify two years ago for a semi-final place. Dominique Scott-Efurd, in fine form again this season, as well as sprinter Alyssa Conley, the SA 100m and 200m champion were all on their couches watching their events unfold on television. The list goes on.
In this case it was certainly not a financial consideration. The world body reportedly paid for the whole bang shoot. Then of course, there was the debacle when the team was announced and the IAAF stepped in and invited a few more SA athletes to be included. Discus thrower Victor Hogan and 100m hurdler Rikinette Steenkamp were also on their way. Young Gena Lofstrand, ranked 43rd in the world, and who did not reach the qualifying time, was added to the team and she then promptly made it to the 800 semi’s. Is there a lesson in there somewhere ASA?
Just how much will the immeasurable experience she gained in the British capitol help her in her quest to the next level? It certainly set one Wayde van Niekerk on his way when he lined up at his first world champs in 2013, yet did not progress past the heats! See what I mean? Talking of the 21-year-old Lofstrand, she teamed up with Justine Palframan, Ariane Nel and Wenda Nel in the 4 x 400m relay. Afterwards the team lamented the fact that they’d not had time to train together. Handing over the baton is a special art and teams have to learn to fine tune this vital part of the relay. It never happened.
Let’s talk marathon for a second. To train for a marathon you need at least four solid months of mileage, speed work, tempo runs, sharpening up races, gym, rest and probably a two to three-week peaking period. That’s 120 days (at least) to race successfully over the 42.2km distance. When were our marathoners told they were lining up in London? Oh, on 18 May when the provisional team was announced. So no “you’re on your way” call. Kit was received just a few days before the respective races. Yet for a marathon runner, shorts and vest has to be “run in” to find the spots that irritate and scratch. Get the sizing right perhaps. Simple, small little things that yet, can cause major trouble when you’re running 42km.
As it was ASA sent two women marathoners who had absolutely no chance of featuring who qualified under the B standard, therefore rubbishing their own “push/pull development” claims. The SA 4x100m relay team never even got to feature due to the fact that they could not qualify inside the world’s top 16 teams. Did ASA really do enough to ensure that we had a good shot at it? From all the evidence presented, not! Yet we have some of the finest 100m men in the world right now. Could South Africa have had a few more finalists, medals, set a few more careers on the right path, perhaps blooded a few more youngsters on the biggest stage of them all, bar the Olympics? Perhaps. But we’ll never know, will we ASA? DM
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.