Team SA eyes swimming, athletics gold

South Africa’s strategy heading into the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi is simple: dominate swimming and athletics.

“The other federations will still play their part, like lawn bowls that has traditionally been strong for us at previous Commonwealth Games, but the main thrust must be athletics and swimming,” said Gideon Sam, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).

All but one of South Africa’s medals came from swimming or athletics at the recent Youth Olympics in Singapore.

“It’s now becoming clearer that we have to move in the direction where our strengths lie,” Sam said ahead of the Games.

The athletics group boasts women’s world 800m champion Caster Semenya, as well as men’s world 800m champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and two-time silver medal winner Khotso Mokoena in a squad expected to turn in a class performance at the Games.

The swim team includes Olympian Roland Schoeman, men’s world 100m breaststroke champion Cameron Van der Burgh and amputee Natalie du Toit, who stars in the para swim events.

In addition to focusing on the track and swimming pool, South Africa also raised the qualification criteria for October’s Games, employing a strict approach where only the highest-ranked athletes were selected to compete.

When Sascoc finalised the team in August, many athletes were left disappointed.

But Sam hopes this strategy will allow South Africa to match or better its fifth-place finish at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

And while swimming and athletics are the vanguard of South Africa’s medal blitz, the lawn bowls team has a rich history of success at the games, trailing only the top two federations in medals won.

The cycling, rugby sevens and boxing teams also feature elite athletes that could make an impact, according to Sam.

South Africa only confirmed last week that its team would participate in New Delhi, amid international outcry over squalid conditions at the athletes’ village.

Tensions peaked on Tuesday when a foot bridge collapsed injuring 23 construction workers, causing several top international athletes to pull out of the games. — Sapa-AFP

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