Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
8 Mar 2014
3:00 pm

SA indoor athletes have bucked the odds

Wesley Botton

There are few things that pose a more foreign challenge to South African track and field athletes than the confines of an indoor arena.

Wesley Botton.

Somehow, though, they seem easily accustomed to the shortened 200m track, comfortably handling the sharp, sloped bends and harder surface.

South Africa has earned nine medals at the biennial World Indoor Championships since 1995, and if Andre Olivier and Zarck Visser are at their best this weekend, they could push the nation into double figures.

Despite being tall and lanky for an 800m runner, Olivier’s choppy workhorse stride belies his raw speed, and his ability to change gears quickly makes him perfectly suitable to indoor athletics.

If he can use his height to gain momentum off the banked bends and get near the front on the first lap, as he did in his 1:44.99 indoor debut in Birmingham last month and again in winning his heat yesterday, he’ll have as good a chance as anyone of stepping on the podium in tomorrow’s final.

Visser slipped up last year at the outdoor showpiece in Moscow when he failed to make the final, but he was visibly relaxed before the team left this week and was desperate to make up for that disappointment in Sopot.

Possessing tremendous potential, with some really big leaps lurking in his legs, Visser has jumped 8.28m outdoors this season, elevating himself among the favourites for gold.

Progressing beyond the qualifying round late last night would have been challenging enough, with fewer places available than in outdoor competitions, but if able to book his place in today’s final, he will be a danger man.

Elroy Gelant, meanwhile, is likely to struggle against a strong 3 000m field, and if he too was able to progress beyond the heats last night, he will almost certainly be out of his depth in the final.

While he is breaking new ground at domestic level, Gelant still has a long way to go to close the gap on the global elite, and he should be satisfied with a top-six finish. Facing world-class opposition who compete on indoor tracks from a young age, Olivier and Visser probably shouldn’t be considered realistic medal contenders, as they hail from a land that has no need for indoor stadiums due to the favourable climate.

But a host of their countrymen have proved it can be done, and as much as the odds are stacked against them, both athletes said this week they believed they could add to the nation’s surprisingly successful record at the event.

I wouldn’t bet against either of them.