South Africa will rely on second-string teams to launch their relay qualifying campaigns on the track, with time running out to secure berths at the Rio Olympics.
While Athletics SA had announced full-strength national teams for Tuesday night’s domestic Night Series relay meeting in Polokwane, the country’s top athletes all withdrew due to other commitments.
The likes of Akani Simbine, Henricho Bruintjies, Wayde van Niekerk, Carina Horn, Tebogo Mamatu, Alyssa Conley and Caster Semenya were all invited to compete at the meeting, but none made themselves available as the event clashes with the early stages of the international track and field season.
With Simbine and fellow sub-10 second athlete Bruintjies both competing overseas, and 200m specialist Anaso Jobodwana recovering from injury, a second-choice SA 4x100m quartet will be led by Emile Erasmus and Lebokeng Sesele, who are ranked in a tie for fourth (10.21 seconds) in the national 100m list this season. They will be joined by Chederick van Wyk and Koketso Mogapi.
In the absence of Horn, Conley and Mamatu, the top three women’s 100m sprinters this year, the national team in the one-lap race will include Melissa Swanepoel, Maryke Brits, Cherese Jones and Robyn Haupt, whose season’s bests are all around half a second slower than the trio of absentees.
World champion Wayde van Niekerk is tied up elsewhere, but the SA 4x400m squad will be near full-strength with former World Championships relay silver medallist Ofentse Mogawane and rising star Jon Seeliger both named in the final list of entries, while in-form 400m hurdler Lindsay Hanekom and experienced speedster Willie de Beer will line up alongside their compatriots in the national B team.
Former Olympian Tsholofelo Thipe will spearhead the national women’s 4x400m quartet in the absence of SA champion Caster Semenya and World Student Games gold medallist Justine Palframan.
With less than two months before the qualifying window closes for the Rio Olympics, no SA relay teams are in contention for a place at the Games.
The top eight nations in each event at last year’s World Relays received automatic entry for the multi-sport showpiece.
The next eight teams, based on aggregate rankings of their top two performances when qualifying closes on July 11, will be invited to compete in Rio.
Teams at the Games are not restricted to athletes who performed in qualifying races, and anyone who qualifies for an individual event in Rio can be included in the Olympic relay squads.
With the national federation leaving it late to organise qualifying attempts, if squads do not achieve fast times by international standards in Polokwane, South Africa may not have any representation in relay events on the track at the Games, which is of particular concern in the men’s 4x100m, with the country’s in-form speedsters considered potential medallists.
If the second-string squads pull through in Polokwane and the national teams perform well at the African Championships in Durban next month, they could still qualify, though preparation and handover practice is an additional issue which needs to be addressed if ASA wants to ensure a medal chance is not wasted due to poor preparation.