It’s never easy to predict what to expect at the Commonwealth Games, but based on performances at this year’s World Championships, the SA team might have to hope for medals in other arenas, with the nation’s elite stars struggling on the track and in the pool.
Traditionally, South Africa has relied heavily on the athletics and swimming teams at the multi-sport showpiece.
At the last edition of the Commonwealth Games, on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018, athletics (14) and swimming (12) earned 26 of the SA team’s 37 medals across all codes.
And while it can be argued that there are some young prospects with real potential in both sports, if the national squad again relies on athletes and swimmers in Birmingham (as expected) it might not be a memorable edition of the spectacle for South Africa.
At the 2019 Fina World Championships in Gwangju, the SA swimming team earned four medals, with the squad also displaying significant depth by reaching finals (finishing in the top eght) in six events.
Similarly, at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London, South Africa earned six medals, with athletes reaching finals in eight events.
In what looks to be a transitional period, however, with the country relying on some experienced campaigners who might struggle to hit as hard as they’d like, it doesn’t look very promising, at least on paper.
While the SA team was missing Tatjana Schoenmaker and Chad le Clos at last month’s Fina World Championships in Budapest, the squad bagged just one bronze medal (thanks to teenager Lara van Niekerk) and they reached just two finals.
And at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene last week, the national squad missed out on the podium for the second straight edition of the global track and field spectacle, with only three athletes (sprinters Akani Simbine, Wayde van Niekerk and Luxolo Adams) finishing among the top eight in individual events.
There has been a decline, for various reasons, and though we are still able to smile about the future, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath between anthems in Birmingham.
Without sufficient quality and depth (by our own standards), Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika might not be played as often as we’d want.