Simbine brings star quality to the SA championships as Wayde flies to US
● Defending champion Akani Simbine is set to deliver an explosive start to the SA championships in Pretoria on Thursday when he races in his favourite 100m event.
He will be one of the main attractions of the three-day event at the Tuks stadium, especially with Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk destined to be at his new training base in the US by then.
Agent Peet van Zyl said on Friday that all the paperwork was in order for Van Niekerk and his wife Chesney to depart.
“Everything has been approved. We’re just waiting for the American consulate to say ‘you can pick up your passport’,” he said, adding flights to the US had been booked for them for each night for the next few days.
Simbine is likely to do some low flying of his own across the Tuks track, where he’s dipped under 10 seconds on a handful of occasions.
The speedster is SA’s best chance of making the Olympic 100m podium in more than a century, after Reggie Walker took gold at London 1908.
The short sprint is the focal point of any Games, and while SA should also have medal contenders in at least the men’s 4x100m relay, the men’s long jump and hopefully the men’s 400m, one area of concern facing athletics administrators could be the overall number of qualifiers.
Covid-19 has wrecked competition schedules and plans, but so far only 12 individual athletes have achieved qualifying standards for Tokyo.
At the 2016 showpiece in Rio SA entered a total of 39 athletes in individual events.
The gender disparity is another concern. Marathon star Gerda Steyn and track distance runner Dom Scott are the only women to have qualified so far; in Rio there were 13.
More athletes will book their tickets before the qualifying window closes on June 29, but right now it’s looking hard to see where there will be another 27 to match the last Olympic squad.
If it turns out that SA’s talent pool has indeed shrunk since Rio, one consolation could be the relays. No fewer than 12 athletes are competing for six spots in the men’s 4x100m, which has already qualified for Tokyo, though with Simbine’s spot secured, they’re fighting for five places.
That team, fifth at the 2019 world championships, is a serious medal contender.
Among those competing for a spot is 2016 Olympian Gift Leotlela, who is returning after a series of injuries. He looked to be in solid form at the recent Gauteng North championships, finishing second behind Simbine.
His injury-prone Tuks teammate Clarence Munyai is expected to line up in the 200m, agent Lee-Roy Newton said.
The relay will help develop sprinters for a while, but more will need to be done to ensure the production line of sprinters continues going forward.
Anyone remember when SA dominated high jump, the 800m and 400m hurdles?