South African athletics have been given a clean bill of health after the weekend’s South African Senior Championships in Port Elizabeth.
Three athletes booked their places for the London Olympic Games while athletes were also making inroads in the statistics books.
The sport has been struggling to shrug off the hangover from the 1980s which is regarded as its golden era.
Athletics South Africa (ASA) president James Evans said there were exciting times ahead for athletics in the country, with young pretenders starting to take over from the old guard.
“We are back in the stats book, all the times if you look back it is like the 1990s and early 2000s, and now we are actually getting the performances pushing it down,” said Evans.
“It is not a freak anymore if a guy runs a sub-10.20 for 100 metres, we are used to that now. In the women’s 400m we’ve got five women that run sub-53, I mean that used to be the South African champion, and then no-one else did it.”
Evans said it was also encouraging to see athletes repeatedly recording the Olympic qualifying standards.
“The team is starting to build, if you think how many guys have done their first qualifier and did it again here,” said Evans.
“We are probably looking at about 20 athletes before the marathon guys and we are on target for that.”
South African steeplechase record holder Ruben Ramolefi fell just short of the Olympic standard of 8:23.10 with a time of 8:24.48, while former world 800m champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi missed the qualifying narrowly.
While all eyes were on Olympic qualifying standards, sprinting sensation Simon Magakwe’s performance in the 100 metre created a lot of excitement at the two-day championships.
Magakwe ran his specialist event in a time 10.11 seconds, recording the fifth fastest time by a South African.
South Africans had to be content with 10.20s for far too long and Magakwe is touted as a serious candidate to break Johan Rossouw’s 24-year-old national record.
There is even talk of Magakwe finally running a sub-10 second race, a feat that still eluded South African sprinters.
The tide is turning
Decathlete Willem Coertzen, one-lap hurdler Cornel Fredericks and South African javelin throw record holder Sunette Viljoen all booked their places for the Games in July.
They joined South African 400m hurdles ace LJ van Zyl, who qualified a week before at an inter-club meeting in Pretoria.
The performances of South African women athletes have in the last decade been a great cause for concern, but Evans felt the tide was finally turning in that regard.
“The other good thing with the juniors, it is almost like a change of the guard now, because we have Sonja [Van der Merwe] winning the 200, we got Justine [Palframan] winning the 400 and all those long jumpers that came along,” he said.
The 18-year-old Palframan won the senior title in the one-lap race, clocking a personal best time of 55.79 seconds.
South African women’s 400m hurdles champion Wenda Theron narrowly missed the Olympic qualification time of 55.50 seconds, but her time of 55.79 seconds was the fourth fastest time by a South African.
In the women’s long jump Janice Josephs was dethroned by Patience Ntshingila with a jump of 6.39m.
In the men’s 20km walk, Lebogang Shange set the third fastest time by a South African with a time of one hour, 25 minutes, 48 seconds. — Sapa