SA athletes eye Olympics
Johannesburg - A host of South Africa's elite athletes will begin their Olympic qualifying campaigns when the domestic season gets underway in earnest with the opening interprovincial meeting in Germiston on Saturday.
All eyes will be on former 800 metres world champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, who will be in action for the first time since he withdrew from last year's global championships in Daegu, South Korea, due to injury.
Mulaudzi pulled out of the world championships in order to recover sufficiently from a hamstring injury and focus all his attention on the London Olympic Games in July.
Before he picked up his injury, Mulaudzi ran a season’s best time of one minute, 45.60 seconds (1:45.60) at a meeting in Rome in May 2011.
Repeats of that performance - once at home and again internationally - will equal the qualifying standard and guarantee him a place in the team for the London Games.
Mulaudzi will be up against former world championships semi-finalist Florent Lacasse of France, who boasts a personal best time of 1:44.48.
The rest of the field includes SA junior champion Rynhardt van Rensburg, Tlou Seloba, Molefe Molefe and 1 500m specialist Pieter van der Westhuizen.
In the absence of former world champion Caster Semenya, the women’s two-lap race is expected to be dominated by national championships silver medallist Mapaseka Makhanya.
Makhanya has her sights set on the 1:59.90 qualifying standard, but she has a lot of work to do in booking herself a place in the team for London, needing to improve personal best of 2:03.36 by nearly four seconds.
The men’s 1 500m should provide some highlights with a strong field consisting of Stephen Mokoka, Tshamano Setone, Dean Brummer and Folavio Sehole in the line-up.
Mokoka, a former national 1 500m champion, has run a personal best of 3:38.55 but has been clocking a lot of mileage lately in his preparations for the Olympic Games where he has qualified for the marathon.
In the long jump, Luvo Manyonga, who finished fifth at last year’s global championships, will line up as the favourite while Khotso Mokoena campaigns on the world indoor circuit.
The meet will also have some international flavour with women's world hammer throw record holder Betty Heidler of Germany taking part.
Heidler is in the country, along with countrywomen Kathrin Klaas and Mareike Nannen, to prepare for the 2012 season.
The objective of the Interprovincial series is not only individual glory, but athletes are also chasing a prize of R100 000 to the winning province at the end of the two meetings, with the second scheduled for Bellville on March 3.
Athletes are awarded points per performance based on the IAAF points tables.