South African Athletics

Reaching beyond the finishing line

2017-01-15 10:30
SA's Wayde van Niekerk setting the track ablaze. (Patrick Smith, Getty Images)

Wayde van Niekerk

Having broken Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old record in winning gold at the Olympics last year (43.03 seconds in the 400m), the big talking point around Van Niekerk centres on whether he’ll double up (the 400m and the 200m) at the London World Championships. But there could be a minor stumbling block, thanks to the way the two races are scheduled.

According to his manager, Peet van Zyl, the two events were over six consecutive days in Rio, with the 400m over the first three days and the 200m over the remainder. This year, the World Champs will have two 400m days and a rest day, meaning the final of the quarter mile will be run 20 minutes after the 200m heats. Van Niekerk’s team will ask the International Association of Athletics Federations if they can schedule those two events to mirror the Olympics.

On the track, Van Zyl punted Van Niekerk doing more 200m to the point of not even doing the 400m at the national champs (April 22-23). Curiously, Van Niekerk’s coach Ans Botha said doubling up wouldn’t necessarily call for more work in training. Botha said she would be using the 43.03sec time from the Olympic finals as a foundation from which to work out the percentile Van Niekerk needs to improve in his workout times. In plainer English, looking to improve training times instead of more work. The ultimate goal, though, is to defend the world title won two years ago in Beijing.

Akani Simbine

Thanks to making the 100m Olympic final and improving the SA record to 9.89 seconds, Simbine finds himself under pressure to improve on by making the final at the World Champs and bagging that elusive medal. His coach, Werner Prinsloo, agrees: “You want to improve every year, even if it’s a little bit. The feeling is, while he made the final and came close to a medal, he now knows what it takes to get a medal.”

Prinsloo introduced another goal not many were aware of, a sub-20 second 200m. While he was always going to attempt to double up this year, Simbine, who has a personal best of 20.16 seconds in the half-lap, has decided to ask some pretty big questions of himself in the event. “If we’d run the 200 in Rio he would have gone under 20,” said Prinsloo.

The coach said Simbine’s training wouldn’t be altered much, other than having endurance introduced to withstand the effects of doubling up at the world champs. For the fans there is an even bigger bonus, Simbine coming up against Wayde van Niekerk in the 200m as they focus on running more of the event this year ...

Caster Semenya

When her coach, Jean Verster, fields this call, the first thing he tells City Press is that she is in Zanzibar on honeymoon, which will apparently set the tone for a season in which she looks to draw breath as opposed to putting her foot down after a golden 2016 in the 800m.

“If she’d won silver at the Olympics after dominating the Diamond League it would have been deemed a failure". 

Verster said they have gone for a different approach this year where they’re not even sure she’ll run the 800m in London. “Our Alpha and Omega is the 2020 Olympics, so this year is just going to be a fun year where she’ll also put a lot of effort into her studies, her marriage and just being healthy. We haven’t decided on it but we’ll probably run the 800m at the World Champs and double up with either the 400m or the 1 500m. Next year we’ll take the Commonwealth games seriously before putting ourselves under pressure again in 2019 as it is the year before 2020.”

Luvo Manyonga

After coming back from a drug addiction wilderness and winning Olympic silver (8.37m) in the long jump and recording a new personal best of 8.48m at the event, one would have expected Manyonga to be talking about putting his foot down to cash in. But his coach, Neil Cornelius, says they will carry on with their novel approach – which is to show up and jump and have as much fun as possible doing it.

Sunette Viljoen (Olympic silver, javelin)

Viljoen’s coach, Terseus Liebenberg, had not responded by the time of going to print.


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