Cape Town - South Africa will be represented by a five-member national men’s 4x400m relay squad at the opening leg of the 2016 IAAF Diamond League series in Doha, Qatar on Friday, as they take the first major step in their qualifying campaign for the Rio Olympics in August.
With world 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk turning out in front of his home crowd at the ASA Open Championships in Bloemfontein this weekend, Athletics South Africa was still able to compile a strong squad for the qualifying attempt in his absence.
The team, who left for Doha on Wednesday afternoon (yesterday), is led by experienced sprinters Shaun de Jager and Thapelo Phora, with the backing of promising young athletes Pieter Conradie and Jon Seeliger. Junior prospect Phemelo Matlhabe will also travel with the squad as cover.
The relay team, managed by retired former SA 400m record holder Hendrick Mokganyetsi, will face national squads from Botswana, France, Japan, Poland, Qatar and Saudi Arabia
In order to qualify for the Rio Games, nations must fill one of eight remaining places in the Men's and Women's 4x100m and 4x400m events, based on rankings using aggregate times of each country's two fastest performances during the window period. The top eight teams at last year's World Relays event in Bahamas have already filled half of the available spots.
The final teams selected for Rio will not be limited to the individuals who participate in the qualifying races, and the inclusion of any athletes in qualifying events does not guarantee selection for the Games.
"We will have further opportunities for our relay teams including our 100m sprinters, but it is important that our athletes take every available chance to ensure we are represented in multiple relay events at the Olympics," said Aleck Skhosana the President of Athletics South Africa.
"Our sprint athletes have shown tremendous improvement, depth and consistency in recent seasons, and we will open every available avenue to assist them in their quest to compete at the Games."
Aside from the national relay squad, South Africa will be represented by a further six individual athletes at the Diamond League series opener, including Dumisane Hlaselo (Men’s 1 500m), Antonio Alkana (men’s 110m hurdles), Victor Hogan (Men’s Discus Throw), former world champ and Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya (Women’s 800m), Wenda Nel (Women’s 400m Hurdles) and Sunette Viljoen (Women’s Javelin Throw).