By Mark Etheridge
Their places assured at the London Olympics later this year, Caster Semenya and Sunette Viljoen will be joined in the Czech Republic on Friday by a handful of fellow South Africans who have one foot in the Olympic door and looking to step over the threshold.
Semenya has qualified in the 800-metre and Sunette Viljoen in the javelin. And both will have fights on their hands to come out tops in the annual Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava.
World champion in 2009, twenty-one-year old Semenya won silver at last year’s world championships in South Korea and then sealed her spot with the 1min 59.58sec win at the last Yellow Pages meeting of the season in Pretoria.
On Friday she’s up against season-leading Pamela Jelimo, the Kenyan having run 1:56.94 at the season-opening Samsung Diamond League meeting in Doha, Qatar two weeks ago.
Semenya lines up third fastest in the field behind Ethiopian Fantu Magiso who ran 1:57.90, also in Doha.
Viljoen, the Commonwealth Games champion, has a season’s best of 61.41m which won her the national title in Port Elizabeth last month. That mark puts her fifth best of the field of eight. Topping the pile is Russia’s Mariya Abakumova with 1 66.86m best of 2012.
Heading the list of Olympic wannabes is Paralympics ace Oscar Pistorius in the men’s 400m. He’s already halfway to qualifying for the Games with the 45.07 he ran in Italy last year, he needs to go quicker than 45.30 to seal his spot.
Up against him will be LaShawn Merritt, recently back from a dope banning. The American boasts the season’s best 44.19 and Pistorius’s 45.20 this year is third quickest in the field.
Drawcard of the meeting is sprint legend Usain Bolt, the Jamaican having run his first 100m of the season in 9.82sec in his hometown of Kingston earlier this week.
Certainly it will be SA sprint champion Simon Magakwe’s biggest moment of his career, lining up against the benchmark of world sprinting. Magakwe has dashed quicker than the Olympic qualifier of 10.18sec on no less than six occasions (equalling the SA record of 10.06 in the process).
Also in the 16-strong field that will vie for a spot in the final will be Hannes Dreyer who won a 100m race in Turnov, also Czech Republic, earlier this week.
SA 10km road champion Elroy Gelant goes off in the 3000m as part of his attempts to build up for a qualifying shot in the 5000m at the Olympics while sprinters Thuso Mpuang and Tsholofelo Thipe both need one more qualifying time in the 200m (Mpuang) and 200 and 400m (Thipe). Mpuang needs to run 20.60 or quicker and Thipe needs to go 23.10 and 51.55 respectively. There was talk that world 800m champion in 2009, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi would line up for the two-lapper on Friday night but there’s no sign of his name on the entry list.
Elsewhere in Europe the South African presence spreads far and wide. In Dessau, Germany seven of our athletes are in action tonight, spearheaded by Zarck Visser. The current SA long jump champion flirted with a qualifying leap of 8.21m at the national champs but the following wind was illegal. He’s since leapt 8.15 which is still 5cm shy of qualifying.
Joining him is national 1500m champion Mapaseka Makhanya, hunting the 4min 06sec qualifying time. Other South Africans in Dessau are Makhanya’s men’s senior 1500m champion Johan Cronje along with Dean Brummer, Jerry Motsaua, Carina Horn and Janice Josephs.
SA 1500m Champion, Mapaseka Makhanya lines up in the 1500m. Makhanya has been looking for the elusive 4:06 in the women’s 1500m all season with her best performance at the SA Championships where she clocked 4:12.84.┬á This meeting will be the first in a series of four meetings in Germany for Makhanya.┬á After that she will move on to Sweden and Russia to end her European campaign.
Other athletes to compete here include Dean Brummer, Jerry Motsau, Johan Cronje, Carina Horn and Janice Josephs.
Then there’s the┬á IFAM Outdoor International Flanders athletics meeting in Oordegem, Belgium on Saturday where Cronje is entered again, while among other South Africans are 800m ace Reinhardt van Rensburg, Mandie Brandt (800/1500m), Patience Ntshingila (triple jump) and 100m hurdler Claudia Viljoen.