Mixed results for SA athletes
Johannesburg - Andre Olivier and Johan Cronje are halfway to packing their bags for the London Olympic Games after setting qualifying times in the 800m and 1 500m respectively at the weekend.
Cronje finished third in the men’s 1 500m tace in Dessau, Germany, on Friday, clocking 3:35.33 to dip under the 3:35.50 qualifying mark. He will need to reproduce that performance before the deadline closes at the end of June.
Olivier dipped below the Olympic 800m qualifying time of 1:45.60 with a time of 1:45.20, finishing seventh at the FBK Games in Hengelo on Sunday.
“He was upset when he spoke to me on the phone,” said Olivier's coach, Jean Verster.
“He felt he had run a bad race tactically and could have dipped under 1:45.
"I am happy though. It is a massive personal best for Andre and now he believes he can go even faster.”
Olivier had raced in the first Diamond League meeting of the season in Shanghai, China, on May 19 but had to contend with flight delays and unscheduled stopovers.
“By the time he reached Shanghai he was exhausted," Verster said.
"Then he flew back home and two days later flew to Europe.
"That puts his performance in perspective."
Verster was also pleased with another of his charges - distance runner Elroy Gelant who came within a whisker of breaking the SA 3 000m record in Ostrava on Friday.
“Elroy told me two days before the race he had sinus problems," Verster said.
"When I watched the race on Friday night, I could see he was not quite right.”
Gelant's time of 7:41.38 was a mere 0.32 seconds outside Juan van Deventer's national record of 7:41.06 set in 2008.
It was, however, a weekend of mixed fortunes for other SA athletes.
Simon Magakwe, in a top field featuring Usain Bolt, false started in the men's 100m race in Ostrava.
Magakwe, looking to become the first South African to go under 10 seconds, then finished fifth at a meeting in Rabat on Sunday in a pedestrian time of 10.49.
Thuso Mpuang and Tsholofelo Thipe also had ideal opportunities to set their second Olympic qualifying marks and book their places in the team for London. They failed to make use of the opportunity, however, clocking 20.95 and 23.40 in the 200m for men and women respectively.
Double amputee Oscar Pistorius also continued to struggle in his bid for Olympic qualification, finishing a distant eighth in the 400m, clocking 47.66.
Pistorius followed that performance with a fifth-place finish in Hengelo in a time of 46.35, missing the mark by more than a second.
Caster Semenya finished second in the women's 800m event in Ostrava in 2:00.80, after a poor first lap, while Sunette Viljoen recorded a season’s best throw of 61.84m for fifth place in the women’s javelin throw.
In Belgium on Saturday, Nolene Conrad fell narrowly short the SA 3 000m steeplechase record, clocking 9:54.42 to miss Tebogo Masehla's national mark by 0.23 seconds.
And Van Deventer clocked 3:35.55 to finish 11th in the men’s 1 500m in Hengelo, missing the Olympic qualifying mark by 0.05 seconds.
Many of South Africa’s athletes will be in action in meetings all over Europe this week as they continue their quest to qualify for the Games.
Cronje was set to compete at the Rehlingen International meeting in Germany on Monday night.
Compatriots Ofentse Mogawane, who still needs to record two qualifying times in the 400m, and middle-distance athlete Mapaseka Makhanya were also included in the start lists.
A host of South African athletes will be competing on Thursday at the Rome Diamond League and a meeting in Marseille, France.
Cronje and Van Deventer will go head-to-head over 1 500m in Marseille on Thursday, while sprinters Roscoe Engel and Hannes Dreyer will line-up at the same meeting.
Long jump sensation Zarck Visser will also compete in Marseille in an attempt to reach the qualifying distance of 8.20m for the first time.
Meanwhile, SA 400m hurdles record holder LJ van Zyl and national champion Cornel Fredericks will both be looking for solid performances in Rome.
Ruben Ramolefi will attempt to set his second qualifying time in the men's 3 000m steeplechase at the same meeting.
Van Zyl will also join up with Mogawane, Willie de Beer, Shaun de Jager and Lebogang Moeng in the 4x400m relay event.
Viljoen will hope to continue her positive progress when she lines up against the leading women’s javelin throwers in the Italian capital, while Semenya will for the second time this season come up against Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo in the women’s 800m.
South Africa’s only medallist from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Khotso Mokoena, will attempt to reach his second qualifying distance to secure a spot in the SA Olympic team.
And Magakwe will get another chance to compete against Bolt in the short sprint.