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Viljoen: This is the best SA team I've seen

2016-08-17 09:30
Sunette Viljoen (Chris Kotze)

Rio de Janeiro - Sunette Viljoen, South Africa's medal hope in the javelin at Rio 2016, believes that this is the best athletics team she has ever seen represent the country. 

Now 32, Viljoen has been on the international stage since 2003 when she made her debut at the World Championships in Paris. 

It is safe to say that she has seen it all in South Africa athletics, which makes her assessment of the current setup all the more intriguing. 

Speaking to media on Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning, SA time) after she needed just one throw (63.54m) to qualify for Thursday's final (02:10 SA time on Friday), Viljoen said the current South African athletics team was the best she had been a part of.

"The different kind of talent we have in each event is very good. Every event that we're entered in, we are right up there," she said.

Never one to shy away from conversations surrounding the lack of financial support for athletics in the country, Viljoen said the healthy place that South Africa was in at the moment was all down to the athletes themselves. 

"I think it is the drive and the passion from the athletes," she said.

"There is not money in athletics ... there are no big financial incentives, so you have to have that drive and passion.

"Athletics is a lone sport and it's not for everyone ... it's not an easy sport. You have to have the passion and the fire.

"I just hope that we take this talent and move it forward and really look after our athletes."

While new 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk is the headline act at the moment, South Africa also boasts Caster Semenya (800m) as a likely gold medallist in Rio.

Then there is new sprint sensation Akani Simbine, the highly-rated Anaso Jobodwana and Viljoen herself. 

"I felt so relaxed," Viljoen said of her qualifying throw. 

"My throw was very nice and I enjoyed it. When I saw the javelin I knew it came out well.

"It's very comfortable feeling that you're not the big, big favourite. To go into the final a little bit as an underdog is nice.

"The javelin this year is very open. There is not one lady that you can pick."

She may view herself as an underdog, but with time running out South Africans will be looking at Viljoen as one of their last medal hopes in Rio.

Lloyd Burnard is Sport24's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro for the duration of the 2016 Olympics ...

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