Team SA’s Road to Tokyo

Akani Simbine celebrates after winning gold at the CWG. Photo by Getty Images

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It is the dream of every athlete to compete at the Olympic Games. And in just a few months time all eyes will be on Tokyo.

However, before the global event, South African track and field stars will first have to take care of business at the ASA Grand Prix Series meets in April.

This is followed by the Sizwe Medical Fund & 3Sixty Life ASA Senior Track and Field and Combined Championships at Pilditch Athletics Stadium in Pretoria in April.

Two months later, the CAA African Senior Championships will take place in Algeria. Athletes will hope to impress at these competitions to book a spot in the final Olympic squad.

Last year, ASA named a 56-member ‘Preparation Squad’ for the Olympic Games. The squad features sprinter Akani Simbine, 400m specialist Wayde van Niekerk, long jump duo of Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai, the 400m hurdles IAAF World U18 and U20 400m hurdles champions, Sokwakhana Zazini and Zeney van der Walt as well as the four-time 100m hurdles national champion, Rikenette Steenkamp.

One of the athletes to watch out for this season is the South African 100m record holder Akani Simbine.

The 26-year-old had a great season last year and just missed out on a medal in the 100m finals at the IAAF World Championships in Doha. Simbine was the second-fastest going into the final, clocking 10.01 seconds in his semi-final race. He also won the 100m title at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018 and can take great confidence from the past two seasons.

World record holder Wayde van Niekerk will hope to defend the 400m title in Tokyo. The sprint sensation missed the IAAF World Championships and the Commonwealth Games after he picked a knee-injury in late 2017. The Cape Town-born athlete bagged the 400m title at the IAAF World Championships in 2015 and 2017. In 2016, he clocked 43.03 seconds to bag the gold medal whilst breaking Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old 400m record.

Long jump sensations Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai had a mixed bag of results last year. The duo made the finals of the long-jump event at the IAAF World Championships in Doha. The pair’s experience at major competitions should see them absolutely challenge for a medal in Tokyo.

Sokwakhana Zazini and Zeney van der Walt were among the standout international youth and junior athletes in recent years. The duo will now face their biggest challenge should they make the final squad. However, it is already an achievement  that they made the ‘Preparation Squad’. They made the country proud at the IAAF World U18 Championships and IAAF World U20 Championships.

The four-time SA 100m hurdles champion Rikenette Steenkamp has been consistent in recent years. She was a semi-finalist in the 110m hurdles event at the IAAF World Championships in Doha last year. In 2018, Steenkamp had a season to remember after she broke the 100m hurdles national record, came second at the CAA African Senior Championships and won the inaugural IAAF Athletics World Cup.

Written by Keagan Mitchell.