Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 143, July 2021 July 2020 - Page 26



Tokyo Reality

The World Athletics programme at the Tokyo Olympics begins on Friday 30 July with the qualifying round of the 3000m steeplechase , and then moves through 10 days of competition to finish with the men ’ s marathon on Sunday 8 August in Sapporo . Besides the obvious questions about the possible effects of COVID on the athletics , there is also great debate about whether we will see a continuation of the recent trend of multiple World Records being set .

As always , the qualification and team selection process ahead of these Games delivered a combination of celebration and disappointment . We obviously celebrated every athlete who has been chosen to pull on a South African vest and to represent this country , particularly at this time when our worldwide reputation has been damaged by the few , and aided by the desperation of unemployment and poverty . There has perhaps never been a greater need for role models at both national and international level , and this even surpasses the display of unification , when Team SA proudly marched into the Barcelona Stadium in 1992 .

In total , 34 athletes ( 29 men and 5 women ) will compete in the athletics , with a diversity of potential , from experienced world class competitors such as Akani Simbine , Wayde van Niekerk and Wenda Nel , who can realistically have their sights on a final or podium , to the novices for whom making it into the team has been a success in itself , and now they have the objective of gaining more experience of competing on the world stage .
Akani Simbine ( right ) Precious Mashele ( left )
Qualification to the status of an Olympian can be significantly more burdensome than the actual competition , where little is expected of the novice , and this opens up the chance to excel in Tokyo . For example , Precious Mashele ’ s 5000m qualification was literally the sort of last-ditch effort that Hollywood writers turn into blockbuster movies . He was triumphant in many local competitions and constantly making incremental improvements at all distances , yet the critical 5000m qualifying time of 13:13.50 eluded him until Tuesday 29 June , the final night for qualification . Even that was not without the drama of uncooperative floodlights , resulting in fellow athletes and officials using car headlights to light the track until the power was restored , whereupon his 13:11.68 delivered his ticket to Tokyo !
Caster Semenya was perhaps the most publicised athlete to have failed to qualify , and will be missing from the games for the first time since 2012 . Banned from the 400m to 1600m distances because of the DSD ruling , her initial attempts to move down to the 200m , where one would expect high testosterone levels to be beneficial , failed to deliver , and just delayed her attempts to qualify in the 5000m . Perhaps with more time , she will make the 5000m times , like Francine Niyonsaba , who faced the same options . The Burundian not only smashed the 5000m qualification
Images : David Papenfus / Endurocad , Roger Sedres / ImageSA & courtesy IOC , PUMA & Tokyo Olympics
26 ISSUE 143 JULY 2021 / www . modernathlete . co . za