By Mark Etheridge
Qualifying for this year’s Rio Olympics came to an end in Yokohama, Japan on Sunday and it was Henri Schoeman and Mari Rabie who spearheaded the South African challenge.
Schoeman ended seventh in the WTS event as Spain’s Mario Mola won the elite men’s race, covering the 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run in 1hr 46min 27sec. Durban based athlete Schoeman ended up just 30sec off the pace after a fine all-round performance.
Schulman, along with Richard Murray, who is recovering from a broken collarbone, has sealed his position on the SA team now.
And then Mari Rabie has surely secured her spot on Team South Africa’s squad for Rio as she finished 15th in 1:58:40.
Not bad going for someone who was down and out with a heart affliction just two years ago!
Ever the perfectionist, Schoeman was still looking to eke something out of the engine. He told Road to Rio 2016: ’I’m pleased with my performance but once again slightly disappointed because I allowed four positions to slip away in the final kilometre.
‘I’m really excited that I have been able to do enough to secure my spot on the Olympic team and have a breakthrough run at 29:57 for 10km.
‘I swam well and I biked well considering I was conserving my energy as it was going to be a fast running race. I made sure I was up towards the front off the bike as it’s something I have struggled with in past races.
‘This set me up for a good position on the run. I lacked some faster leg speed in the final 500m and had to settle for seventh, only metres from a podium finish.’
Indeed, Schoeman was just 12 seconds away from picking up third spot as Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt announced his presence with bronze.
Next up for Schoeman is…. not much! ‘I’ll take a well deserved break this week and spend some quality time with my girlfriend [Franzel Allen] before the real training for Rio begins.
‘I’m very excited knowing where my form is and what I need to tweak leading into the Olympics come August.’
Next best South African was 2012 junior world champion Wian Sullwald in 1:51:22 and 47th spot. Sullwald had been South Africa’s best hope of earning a third slot in Rio but sickness and injury has been against him and it seems SA will only have two men’s slots in Rio.
Back to Rabie though and her relentless march up the rankings continues as America’s running machine Gwen Jorgensen won in 1:56:02.
Rabie had a top eight finish in last week’s World Cup event in Huatulco, Mexico and raced across the world from West to East to make sure of her Olympics berth.
‘So wow, seven races in 10 weeks in six countries,’ she told Road to Rio 2016 from the airport as she headed homewards.
‘Eleventh in the World Series ranking and a 35min 10km after a massive 38hr travel… and a broken bike drama,’ she reflected after having to borrow a bike for the race.
‘I’m just so, so happy. It was a very choppy and average swim for me and everyone came together on the bike so I just rode in the pace and then had a tough little run.’
Like Schoeman she’s also looking for some down time. ‘Now for some time off and then start another block to hopefully make some more gains.’
Also in action on Saturday was Gillian Sanders. The London based athlete has already done enough to qualify and took 49th spot in 2:03:41.
A third South African, Carlyn Fischer, failed to finish.