Cape Town - It’s been a mixed bag for South African athletics this year.
IOL Sport writer Ashfak Mohamed takes a look at the highlights and lowlights of the past year in South African Athletics and looks ahead to what 2022 can bring.
What went right
One of the best moments of the year for South African athletics came at the World Relays in Silesia, Poland in early May.
The men’s 4x100m team brought glory to Mzansi with a dramatic victory in the final, where they pipped Brazil, who were later disqualified. Italy were promoted to the silver medal, and Japan were handed the bronze.
Team SA had endured a marathon journey to travel to Poland, totalling over 30 hours, while they also had to go through a few Covid tests before the competition started.
But it was all worth it in the end. Akani Simbine and Gift Leotlela were the heroes in the final.
Thando Dlodlo got out of the blocks as quickly as he could on a cold, rainy night, and then Leotlela motored to a remarkable split of 9.16 seconds to bring SA into medal contention.
Clarence Munyai kept the momentum going, but while SA were behind Brazil when Simbine got the baton, the national record-holder dipped on the line to clinch victory in 38.71 seconds.https://rumble.com/embed/vdtjoz/?pub=uqnnu
In a personal triumph, Simbine also improved his South African mark with a superb run of 9.84 seconds in Hungary, which is also an African record.
Another highlight in 2021 was young shot put giant Kyle Blignaut reaching the Olympic final. The former junior world champion showed his class to end sixth in the decider in Tokyo with a best effort of 21.00m. Sprinter Shaun Maswanganyi also proved that he is one to watch in future, as he reached the semi-finals in the 100m and 200m, while Leotlela also made the 100m semi-finals.
Off the track and field, Gerda Steyn can be proud of a superb effort in the Olympic marathon, where she finished in 15th place in tough, humid conditions.
What went wrong
Eish, where do we start! Probably with the same men’s 4x100m relay team, who went from heroes in the World Relays to also-rans at the Tokyo Olympics.
They were medal contenders, but it all fell apart in the first-round heats. Leotlela was ruled out with a hamstring injury, and Maswanganyi was brought in as a replacement.
But there was a mix-up with the baton exchange between Munyai and Maswanganyi, and the two clipped each other as the baton was handed over, with Maswanganyi quickly coming to a complete stop.
There was more disappointment for Team SA in Tokyo. Simbine’s Olympics ‘jinx’ continued as he ended fourth in the 100m final in a time of 9.93 seconds, with unheralded Italian Marcell Jacobs taking gold in 9.80, followed by American Fred Kerley (9.84) and Canada’s Andre de Grasse (9.89).
Defending Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk was hopeful that he was over his injury problems, but he was never quite 100% in Tokyo.
And so it proved, as he bombed out in the 400m semi-finals in a time of 45.14 seconds, having needed a 44.62 to reach the final.
It was also sad that Caster Semenya couldn’t defend her 800m title due to World Athletics’ controversial rules around athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD), and she was not able to qualify in a late bid in the 5 000m either.
What to expect in 2022
The two major events on the athletics calendar
next year are the world championships in Eugene, Oregon (July 15-24), and the Commonwealth Games soon after that (July 28-August 8) in Birmingham.
Van Niekerk has been hard at work in training at his US base in Florida under renowned coach Lance Brauman, and one would think that by the time the 2022 international season gets under way, the 400m star will be at full tilt once more.
But he would need to get in much more racing than he did in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics to announce himself as a serious medal contender at the world championships.
Bahamas star Steven Gardiner clinched the Olympic gold in an excellent time of 43.85 seconds, so that is the kind of standard Van Niekerk would need to reach again.
Simbine is too good not to earn a major medal at some time in his career, and the world championships in 2022 may be that occasion … and he will defend his Commonwealth Games crown.
And will we see Semenya in action in the 800m again? Her case at the European Court for Human Rights has yet to be heard, though, so maybe she will tackle the 5 000m properly in 2022.