Johannesburg - World 400m champion, 2016 Olympic 400m champion and world 400m record holder Wayde van Niekerk is poised to dominate the SA Sports Awards for the second year running in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The debates around these awards can be as parochial as they are fierce, but it’s safe to say the three titles do more bidding for him to be South African Sports Star of the year than any lobbying from athletics ever could.
And if there are any doubts about the strength of the argument in his favour, maybe being voted best male athlete from the Rio Olympics by the Association of National Olympic Committees a few days ago will go some way towards settling them.
Well, that and his nomination for the IAAF’s male athlete of the year award, which he should also win despite the presence of Usain Bolt on the shortlist.
At the SA Sports Awards, the 24-year-old is nominated alongside Caster Semenya and Proteas cricketer Kagiso Rabada for the main award (Sports Star), while he also features in the Sportsman of the Year and the People’s Choice award categories.
Semenya, whose comeback from a massive slump saw her win Olympic gold in the 800m in Rio, should get her compensation for losing out to Van Niekerk in the Sports Star of the Year category, and the hugely popular Rabada should push Van Niekerk for the People’s Choice award.
The gifted fast bowler (21) has gone from child prodigy to the main fast bowler in the Proteas’ squad within a year. His best Test figures of 13/144 against England earlier this year made him the second best behind bowler Makhaya Ntini.
In the other main awards, Van Niekerk’s coach Ans Botha is up against Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, Semenya’s coach Jean Verster and Paralympics coach Suzanne Ferreira.
Mosimane, whose team has won three cups this year, the league and cup double domestically and the CAF Champions League, may have banked on pushing Botha out for the award, but the latter's title success falls out of the September 30 closing date for voting.
And if it’s a simple numbers game in terms of success, Ferreira, whose five athletes won eight medals at the Rio Paralympics, should be a strong contender.
The Team of the Year award should be hotly contested, with rowers Shaun Keeling and Lawrence Brittain up against Sundowns and the Blitzboks. With the coxless pair having won silver in Rio, Sundowns look strongest to win thanks to their domestic double as the Blitzboks’ bronze medal was a step down from their Sevens Series.