A national men’s 4x100m quartet will make a late qualifying bid for the Olympics this weekend, Athletics South Africa confirmed on Wednesday, but no other SA relay teams will compete on the track at next month’s Rio Games.
The sprint relay squad, represented by national record holder Akani Simbine, versatile world 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk, Emile Erasmus and teenager Gift Leotlela, won the African title in Durban last month in 38.84.
Needing to be ranked among the top 16 countries in the world to book their place at the Games, however, based on two aggregate times set during the qualifying window, the nation’s next fastest performance of 39.44 (set at last year’s World Student Games) left them languishing well down the list.
In order to secure a spot in Rio, the squad would need to shatter the SA record of 38.35 with a second-string quartet at the Flanders Cup meeting in Kortrijk, Belgium on Saturday.
Van Niekerk was unavailable for the qualifying attempt, while former national record holder Henricho Bruintjies and World Championships 200m bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana were recovering from injuries.
In their absence, Simbine would lead a team consisting of Erasmus, Roscoe Engel and hurdles specialist Antonio Alkana, none of whom had run quicker than 10.19 in the 100m dash in their careers.
Considered potential medal contenders at full-strength with three men who had dipped under 10 seconds (Simbine, Bruintjies and Van Niekerk) the sprint relay squad were given no Olympic qualifying opportunities ahead of the continental championships a few weeks ago, seemingly due to poor planning by local officials.
Though they still had a slim chance to qualify this week, the SA women’s 4x100m and men’s and women’s 4x400m squads would not compete at the Games.
The national federation confirmed it had received invites for the women’s 4x100m and 4x400m teams to compete at the Belgian meeting this weekend, but they were unable to compile quartets for either race with most athletes making themselves unavailable at late notice while focussing on their preparation for individual events in Rio.
“We tried our best to put together all three teams, but due to unavailability of athletes either because of injuries or other reasons, this (men’s 4x100m) was the best and only team that we could put together,” said ASA president Aleck Skhosana.
While the SA women’s 4x400m team of Caster Semenya, Wenda Nel, Justine Palframan and Jeanelle Griesel broke the national record to win the African title in 3:28.49, they remained well outside the top 16 on aggregate and would not get another opportunity, with the qualifying window closing on Sunday.
Should the men’s 4x100m team fail in their final attempt, it will be the first time the country will not be represented in any track relay event at the Olympics since the 1992 Games in Barcelona.