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Track and field aces chasing Games spots in Tshwane

The bid for Commonwealth Games places will start in earnest when the country’s top athletes line up at the SA Senior Championships in Pretoria, Tshwane on Friday and Saturday.

They will be attempting to retain their crowns or to recapture titles they relinquished at last year’s championships in Stellenbosch, reports Sapa.

Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya will be making her return to the national track and field meeting after an indifferent 2013.

She missed most of last season due to knee surgery, which also saw her fail in her last-ditch attempt to qualify for the 2013 IAAF World Championships held in Moscow.

The 17-year-old Gena Lofstrand took the women’s 800m title at the national championships in Semenya’s absence.

Semenya will certainly be keen to demonstrate her local dominance again and will be adding the 400m to her repertoire. The race will be a good indication of how young pretenders like Lofstrand and Monique Stander compare with South Africa’s queen of the track.

Another South African stalwart showing early promise this season is national 400m hurdles record-holder LJ van Zyl who recently produced his best result since 2011 at the permit meeting in Sasolburg, where he ran a sub-49-second time.

Last year he opted not to defend his title and saw training partner Cornel Fredericks take the spoils. One can expect some fireworks in one of the country’s most hotly contested events when Van Zyl and Fredericks go up against one another.

While PC Beneke is nursing an injury, there could be a challenge from Wouter le Roux, who trains with the two leading 400m hurdlers.

Van Zyl said he was encouraged by his run in Sasolburg and was ready for the challenge despite being involved in a car accident earlier in the week. “I’m very positive. I had an accident on Monday but, after a check-up, I trained again the next day,” Van Zyl said.

South African sprint star Simon Magakwe is looking for a record sixth consecutive title in the 100m and is also aiming to win the 200m for the third time in a row. Magakwe, however, said on Thursday he had even greater ambitions at this weekend’s championships.

The joint national 100m record-holder with Johan Rossouw will also be looking to better the national mark of 10.06 seconds. “To be honest, I feel like going for the South African record in the 100m because I feel even better than I did in 2012 (the year in which he equalled the record),” Magakwe said.

But he will first have to deal with several promising youngsters eager to usurp his sprinting throne. His biggest threat should come from Tuks athlete Akani Simbine, who clocked 10.13 seconds at the Gauteng North provincial championships last month.

Henrico Bruintjies, who will be running on his home track, could also spring an upset.

Magakwe posted a time of 10.21 seconds in Perth last month and said he believed the challenge from the younger sprinters and the altitude could only improve his chances of setting a new mark.

“I’m not going to underestimate them, and it’s a good thing to see the youngsters coming through,” he said.

World 1500m bronze medallist Johan Cronje will be back on the track after he was forced to withdraw from the world indoor championships earlier this year.

Cronje has set his sights on a third consecutive title in the capital city over the weekend.

Legendary hammer thrower Chris Harmse will be looking to capture his 19th national title in his specialist event, while javelin queen Sunette Viljoen will want to find some distance at the championships ahead of the Commonwealth Games later this year where she will be bidding for a record third consecutive gold medal.

Long jumpers Zarck Visser and Lynique Prinsloo will be defending their titles in the men’s and women’s events respectively, while Wenda Nel will be aiming to wrest the women’s 400m hurdles title back from training partner Anneri Ebersohn.