Can SA go the dis­tance?

Daniel Mothowa­gae looks at what lo­cal spe­cial­ist coaches make of SA’s mid­dle-dis­tance prospects at the Rio Olympics

CityPress - - Sport -

With six Olympic and World Cham­pi­onships medals be­tween them, ac­com­plished mid­dledis­tance run­ners the late Mbu­laeni Mu­laudzi, Hezekiel Sepeng and Elana Meyer now seem like re­minders of a by­gone era. Out­side of this group, Caster Se­menya has proven to be the coun­try’s most re­al­is­tic medal cer­tainty when it comes to the mid­dle-dis­tance hope­fuls.

Renowned lo­cal mid­dle- and long-dis­tance coaches re­main op­ti­mistic, though, amid a sense of de­cline in for­tunes in the dis­ci­pline where stamina meets speed.

Coaches Michael “Sponge” Seme, Jean Ver­ster, DB Prinsloo and Ian Har­ries speak with au­thor­ity on lo­cal ath­let­ics – they have guided a num­ber of the coun­try’s ath­letes to sig­nif­i­cant medals over the past few years.

This group main­tains South Africa will be among the mid­dle-dis­tance medal­lists at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in Au­gust.

Seme plot­ted Se­menya’s gold medals at the Ber­lin world cham­pi­onships in Ger­many in 2009, and the IAAF-ac­cred­ited men­tor be­lieves her for­mer charge is still ca­pa­ble of a podium fin­ish.

“We’ll be in the mix for medals in the mid­dle dis­tance,” said Seme, de­spite his trump card, Stephen Mokoka, go­ing for the Olympic marathon in­stead of the 10 000m.

Mokoka com­peted in the dis­tance at the global cham­pi­onships in Bei­jing, China, last year but fared badly in the race. Bri­tain’s Mo Farah eas­ily de­fended his ti­tle.

Ver­ster’s charge, El­roy Ge­lant, re­mains South Africa’s hope to con­test the 10km in Brazil.

“There is a lot of tal­ent across the 800m, 1 500m and 10 000m, but prepa­ra­tion is key to get the guys in the fi­nals [in their re­spec­tive events],” said Ver­ster.

He coaches Olympic medal­lists Se­menya and Ni­jel Amos of Botswana, as well as 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games bronze medal­list An­dré Olivier, among the ac­com­plished run­ners in his sta­ble.

“It is not go­ing to be easy, be­cause the prob­lem is ev­ery coach has to plan for him­self, as there is no sup­port from Ath­let­ics SA and Sas­coc [the SA Sports Con­fed­er­a­tion and Olympic Com­mit­tee] for our top­class ath­letes,” says Ver­ster.

Prinsloo, who guides 2013 world champs bronze medal­list Jo­han Cronje, be­lieves his charge pos­sesses the much-needed ex­pe­ri­ence to ward off the chal­lenge of the east African run­ners in the tax­ing 1 500m.

Cronje was South Africa’s sole medal­list at the Moscow 2013 World Cham­pi­onships in Rus­sia.

“I am op­ti­mistic about our chances in Rio be­cause Jo­han is an ex­pe­ri­enced run­ner who can hold on in three races over five days. He strug­gled in Bei­jing [at the world cham­pi­onships] with a groin in­jury, but he un­der­went an op­er­a­tion af­ter­wards.”

Prinsloo be­lieves South Africa can al­ways look at the youth for an­swers in fu­ture, but the emerg­ing tal­ent is still a work in progress.

“Young ath­letes need the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop and ac­quire ex­pe­ri­ence. But there is a vac­uum be­tween their level and the se­nior ranks.”

Young prospects in­clude last year’s World Stu­dent Games 800m bronze medal­list Rein­hardt van Rens­burg, who broke into the in­ter­na­tional se­nior stage at the IAAF World Cham­pi­onships in Bei­jing in Au­gust.

Van Rens­burg (23) has al­ways shown po­ten­tial, but in­juries in­ter­rupted his progress when he was on track to match Mu­laudzi and Olivier on the do­mes­tic front.

Har­ries, who has coached lead­ing South African ath­letes over the past two decades, in­clud­ing Mu­laudzi, was more crit­i­cal.

“It doesn’t look good, be­cause there has not been con­sis­tency from the main prospects, such as Jo­han [Cronje] and An­dré [Olivier] ... and no other names come to mind.

“Maybe we are talk­ing at the wrong time; six weeks or two months from now can tell, from a sta­tis­ti­cal point of view, how the guys are shap­ing up.”

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