Though the likes of sprinter Wayde van Niekerk and javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen will be absent due to injuries, a number of local track and field stars will have points to prove at the three-day SA Athletics Championships starting in Pretoria on Thursday.
Luvo Manyonga (long jump)
Having taken a back seat throughout the domestic season, Manyonga warmed up for the national championships with an explosive debut campaign on the international indoor circuit. While Ruswahl Samaai fired a warning at his esteemed compatriot with a leap of 8.24m at Tuks Stadium last week, Manyonga is clearly in form after setting an African indoor record of 8.44m to earn silver at the World Indoor Championships last month, and he will hope to remind the fans that he’s still the man to beat
Akani Simbine (100m/200m)
With a weight of expectation resting heavily on his shoulders, in the absence of Van Niekerk, Simbine will line up as the favourite for the 100m/200m double. With a resurgent Anaso Jobodwana and 20-year-old prospect Clarence Munyai aiming to dethrone him in the short sprint, Simbine will be eager to prove he is still the fastest man in the country by dominating both finals
Caster Semenya (800m/1 500m)
While she will toe the line as the firm favourite in the 800m and 1 500m events, Semenya will be wary of US-based athlete Dom Scott-Efurd, who showed superb form on the indoor circuit in the early stages of the year, over the longer distance. Gearing up for another double at the Commonwealth Games next month, she will look for a confidence boost with a win over Scott-Efurd in the metric mile
LJ van Zyl (400m hurdles)
For well over a decade, Van Zyl has carried the flag in one of the country’s strongest disciplines. An eight-time national champion, he will not line up as the favourite, which is a tag that belongs to title holder Le Roux Hamman, the fastest man in the country this year. One of five SA men to have dipped under 50 seconds this season, Van Zyl will want to capitalise on his experience and prove he still has the ability to deliver under pressure
Breyton Poole (high jump)
Despite standing more than a full head shorter than many of his opponents, the world youth champion has already leaped 2.25m this season, and though he will take on senior athletes with far more experience, Poole will be among the favourites for gold. The teenager is already a crowd favourite, with his stature making him a natural underdog, and he will be eager to take the baton as the country’s best high jumper.