Slim pickings for SA at Olympic Games

With just four months to go before the Beijing Olympics only eight South African track and field athletes have achieved qualifying times.

Athletics South Africa (ASA) says there is nothing to worry about. This is despite the fact that South Africa won no medals at the last two International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world championships in Finland and Japan.

ASA says the sport is going through a “recession” and but that its investment in young talent will soon show results.

“We are preparing for the future. Given the performances at the World Indoor Champs, where we sent a team of three athletes and came back with two medals, one can see that we are slowly turning the corner, said Molatelo Malehopo, ASA’s development manager.

Tubby Reddy, chief operations officer for the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), is optimistic that South Africa will bring home glory.

“We have 15 athletes who are ranked in the top five in the world in their events. Besides athletes still have until June to meet our A-qualifying standard. We should not look at the number at the moment,” said Reddy.

Olympic spots were up for grabs for athletes at the six Yellow Pages qualifying events that ended in Stellenbosch last week.

The eight who managed to confirm their tickets to the Beijing Games are Robert Oosthuizen (javelin), Khotso Mokoena (long jump), Alwyn Myburgh (400m hurdles), Pieter de Villiers (400m hurdles), Ockert Cilliers (400m hurdles), Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (800m), Samson Ngoepe (800m) and Ruben Ramolefi (3 000m steeplechase). Marathon runners Hendrick Ramaala and Norman Dlomo have also made the cut.

The top athletes who failed to qualify are 100m sprinter Geraldine Pillay, middle-distance runners, Lebo and Lebogang Phalula, and 400m hurdles runner, LJ van Zyl.

Malehopo admitted that the performances didn’t live up to the promise.

“We had hoped for more athletes to qualify and unfortunately due to the strong winds over the weekend we did not realise this expectation. The domestic season might be over, but ASA is pulling out all stops to ensure that it sends a strong team to Beijing. Plans are in place to identify promising athletes who stood out and send them on a two-month training camp (between June and July) in Potsdam, Germany.

“We will be assisting those athletes to qualify with funds to travel to Europe. The sooner they qualify the better, as this will reduce pressure on their preparations,” said Malehopo.

But Lungile Bikwani who coaches Lebo and Lebogang Phalula says it’s a bit too late for this. “Yes, athletes do need tough competition which they get in Europe in order to achieve Olympic standards. I think time is not on our side at the moment. It all depends on ASA if they select our athletes for the IAAF events,” he said

Sascoc has pledged to help ASA in every way it can to see more athletes qualifying.

The squad of no more than 24 athletes who will be going to the Olympics will be announced at the end of July.

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