South Africa’s 4x100m relay athletes are one team with one goal. All agree that winning a medal at the World Relay Championships in Poland (1-2 May) is non-negotiable. The same goes for when they compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
During the 2019 World Championships in Doha, they set a new South African record of 37.65sec. It was one of the four fastest times of the year. In fact, from 2016, 37.65 has consistently been a top time in the 4x100m relay.
What made Doha’s performance special is that the South Africans hardly got to train as a team. But now, things are different. Paul Gorries (national relay coach) is a firm believer that practice makes perfect. The athletes would have it no other way. ‘I think the more training camps, the better. It is helping us to develop a team culture,’ said Akani Simbine, who last year was the world’s third-fastest sprinter over 100 metres.
There’s agreement that the team needs to improve by at least 0.50 or more seconds before May. According to Simbine, no one thing will make them faster.
‘We need to work on every facet of running a fast relay during training. The goal should be to do everything 100% correct every moment so that when we get to race, there are no mistakes.’
The South African 4x100m-relay team won silver during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Henricho Bruintjies was part of that team.
‘We can be the best in the world. The secret is never to allow ourselves to be caught up in the hype of everything. We should stay focussed on the task at hand. In the end, everything is going to boil down to total trust in each other and smooth handovers,’ Bruintjies said.
Sinesipho Dambile, who was part of the SA team that won silver in the 4x200m-relay squad during the 2019 World Relay Championships in Yokohama, Japan, echoed his teammate’s sentiments.
‘I honestly believe that we can medal as we got some of the fastest athletes, but we need to train together. The more we do so, the better.’
To Clarence Munyai, competing in a World Championships final is all about no margin for error. ‘It only takes one small mistake to lose out on a medal chance. Having a good relay team is not only about speed. To me, it is about teamwork.’
According to Gorries, the emphasis was to ensure that everyone was on the same page. ‘We spoke about what we wanted to achieve and how we are going to go about it. On the track, the aim was getting the athletes used to pass the baton around.’
Gorries, however, emphasised that the team for the World Relay Championships is far from finalised. ‘I consider every athlete who runs a fast time to be in contention. US-based Anaso Jobodwana and Phatutshedzo Maswanganyi will join the squad as soon as the international travel regulations allow for it.’
The first 4x400m-relay training camp will be on 6 March at Pretoria University.
Photo: Reg Caldercott