Johanesburg - African record holders Khotso Mokoena and Sunette Viljoen, will lead a group of 14 South Africans representing team Africa at the IAAF Continental Cup in Split, Croatia this weekend.
Previously known as the World Cup, the global team championship has been reduced from nine continental squads to four, with Africa competing against the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe.
Two athletes compete for each continent in straight finals of each event, apart from the distance races on the track in which three from each team take part with two to count.
World 800m champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi picked up a hamstring injury at the African Championships in Nairobi in July, the Africa team’s trials, while global women’s champion Caster Semenya did not compete in Nairobi, and neither will be in action in Split.
LJ van Zyl and Hardus Pienaar, silver medallists at the 2006 World Cup in Athens, will both compete in the Croatian coastal city. And while an out of sorts Van Zyl is up against a stellar field in the men’s 400m hurdles final, and Pienaar will struggle in the javelin throw, South Africans will be confident of bagging a few medals.
Viljoen, who improved her own continental mark in the women’s javelin throw to 66.38m in Prague in June, is ranked seventh in the world this year. And with two of the four ranked ahead of her missing from the line-up, the 26-year-old will be confident of producing another stunning performance in what has already been the season of her life.
Mokoena, the Olympic long jump silver medallist, has had a quiet season. But while he is ranked only 12th in the world, after leaping 8.23m to win the African title, the 25-year-old has heaps of big match temperament and will be gunning for a place among the top three.
Elizna Naude, ranked ninth in the women‘s discus throw, is likely to struggle against a world-class field, and while she has been in solid form this season, the African record holder will need to be at her best to be competitive.
Van Zyl, who set a season’s best 48.51 seconds to retain the continental title in Nairobi, has not shown good form during the European season. However, while he is also ranked only 12th in the world, he will look to find form with a medal-winning performance in Split before he shifts his focus towards retaining his Commonwealth title in Delhi next month.
Pienaar, who has been nowhere near his best for the last two years, is up against it. The three-time African champion is ranked a lowly 50th in the world and will struggle against a quality field.
South Africa are well represented in the men’s field events by Burger Lambrechts (shot put), Victor Hogan (discus throw) and Chris Harmse (hammer throw), while Estie Wittstock lines up in the women’s 200m sprint.
Hannes Dreyer, Lehann Fourie, Simon Magakwe, Thuso Mpuang and Wilhelm van der Vyfer will make up the African 4X100m relay team.