OUT OF THE BOX out of the box by NORRIE WILLIAMSON
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