Sport | Columnists
Between 2014 and 2018, South African athletics experienced perhaps its most successful period in the history of the sport, and the results achieved were so impressive they would have rattled bones.
Former administrators who caused more harm than good were booted and the spectacular performances by some athletes inspired many others, creating a snowball effect in which the standard of local track and field was pushed into a new sphere.
Records tumbled across the board and medals were bagged as the likes of Wayde van Niekerk, Caster Semenya, Luvo Manyonga, Ruswahl Samaai, Sunette Viljoen, Akani Simbine and Anaso Jobodwana set new standards in their respective disciplines.
But after five years of steady progress, the sport hit a dip last season.
Van Niekerk and Semenya’s absence – due to injury and international gender rules – left a gaping hole, and without the front runners setting the standard at the top, the ripple effect was a little disconcerting.
Long jumpers Manyonga and Samaai were consistent, but neither managed to produce a big leap overseas and they both missed out on medals at the World Championships.
Viljoen had perhaps the worst season of her career and Jobodwana has been stuck in the mud for some time, struggling to find his best form.
And while other athletes stood up and delivered, including the likes of road runner Stephen Mokoka and the national men’s 4x100m relay team, they too were unable to challenge for medals at the World Championships in Doha.
Among the nation’s top athletes, however, it was Simbine more than anyone else who kept the boat afloat by putting up consistent fights in the 100m sprint and cementing himself as one of the fastest men in the world.
All in all, it was not a great year for the sport, and it left all sorts of question marks about the national team’s ability heading into the
A month ago, it seemed the country’s top swimmers would have to lead the charge in Tokyo, with track and field offering little in terms of medal prospects.
Now, with the 2020 domestic season barely off the ground,there is a whole lot more to smile about.
Van Niekerk’s comeback last week probably would’ve just turned a few heads, but after more than two years on the sidelines, his performance was just about as much as we could have expected from him … perhaps even better than that.
It was a very positive sign, and if he got through that without tweaking his knee again, he may well be able to return to his best on the international circuit.
While Semenya is still unsure whether she will be allowed to defend her 800m title in Tokyo, it is equally promising to see that she
hasn’t taken her foot off the pedal.
Opening her season with a national 300m best proved she had not given up hope, and her form suggests she will be ready to hit the ground flying if she gets the thumbs up.
Manyonga and Samaai have proved themselves enough that we’d be disrespecting both of them if we wrote them off, and Viljoen has been such a powerful force for South African athletics that she too deserves the benefit of the doubt.
As for Jobodwana, I’d be lying if I said a short video clip of him training was enough to see where he is at the moment, but those in the know reckon he might make a comeback of his own.
Add to the pile the likes of Simbine, Mokoka and the sprint relay squad, and our no-hope Olympic athletics team suddenly isn’t looking so bad.
Maybe the sport just needed a gap year to put its legs up and brace for the Olympic season.
We won’t know until the 2020 campaign gains momentum, but the trajectory of the sport could well continue from where it stalled last season.
This year is gonna be a good one.
For more sport your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.