A chance to underline class with medals

2018-04-01 05:58
Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (File)

Johannesburg - Maybe partly due to recently losing the bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games event, despite being the only country in the running, the games are viewed these days with a little more suspicion.

The games themselves – which begin on Wednesday in the Gold Coast in Australia – have always had a bizarre feel for some who can’t fathom how formerly colonised countries gather every four years ostensibly to celebrate the fact that Great Britain once invaded their shores.

But if you ask Wayde van Niekerk about the value of the Commonwealth Games, you might find an athlete with great appreciation for them.

In 2015, the 400m world record holder, Olympic medallist and back-to-back world champion in that event credited the Glasgow Games – where he got silver behind Kirani James four years ago – as the moment he finally felt he belonged at this level in an event in which South Africa finished seventh overall (13 gold, 10 silver and 17 bronze medals).

Although they are not as big as the Olympics and the world championships for track and field athletes, the Commonwealth Games play an incredible role in teaching athletes about competing in major events.

And, in the case of Akani Simbine,who has made the 100m final in both the last Olympics and world championships without winning a medal, the Gold Coast in Australia may well be the place where he, too, can underline his credentials as a challenger with a medal.

The Gold Coast will prove particularly beneficial for young sprinter Clarence Munyai, whose 19.69-second 200m run at the national champs has made him a marked man, not only in the world but also on the field at the Commonwealth Games, which has some quick boys from the Caribbean.

The youngster has some lessons in championship-racing pressure coming up.

The event could prove a nice easing back on to the international stage for former South African 200m record holder Anaso Jobodwana as he has been out injured for the past two years.

The usual suspects, Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai, should be favourites to contest the long jump gold medal, and flag-bearer Caster Semenya continues to bed down her middle-distance double act in the 800m and the 1 500m for higher honours, with Olympic silver medallist Sunette Viljoen lurking as the favourite in the women’s javelin.

In other codes of the 18-sport event, the Blitzboks, who also got confirmation of what they were capable of by beating their All Blacks counterparts in the gold medal match in 2014, return as the World Rugby Sevens Series defending champions and favourites.

But they do have a problem in that the Hong Kong Sevens take place a week before they are due to play in the Gold Coast, something they have tried to rectify by sending their B-team to Asia and saving the heavy artillery for Australia.

In swimming, it will be interesting to see if the South Africans have names other than Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos to offer in resistance to the usual onslaught from Australia and England in the pool.

Triathletes Richard Murray and Henri Schoeman, the Olympic bronze medallist, will want to improve their mixed relay silver in Glasgow.

In cycling, Ashley Moolman Pasio will hope to go two steps better than her third-place finish in the women’s road race.

In dark-horse – for a medal, that is – territory is walker Lebogang Shange who, after finishing fourth at the world championships last year, feels primed for a major event medal.

Shange recently underlined this by winning the Memorial Jerzy Hausleber 20km walk in Monterrey in Mexico last month.

In the team sport events, the women’s netball team, who have played a lot against the Aussies and the New Zealanders, must fancy their chances even if they have to upset one of Australia, New Zealand and England for a place on the podium, with Malawi and Jamaica are an ever-present threat.

The women’s hockey team, currently ranked fourth, will be another to look out for, although it may be a little soon for the men’s team, who have recently appointed a new coach in Mark Hopkins.

Read more on:    commonwealth games 2018


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