Athletics South Africa (ASA) announced a 39-member national senior preparation squad as part of its long-term plan to assist athletes in their build-up towards the Olympic Games which will be staged in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.
ASA stated in a media release last week that the squad is compiled of Tier-1 athletes who achieved top-20 world rankings last year and Tier-2 athletes who met IAAF World Championships qualifying standards in the 2016 campaign.
Only two Free State athletes, Wayde van Niekerk and Rynardt van Rensburg, find themselves among the 39-strong squad.
Van Niekerk, who won the title and shattered the 400m world record at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and his Kovsies team mate, Van Rensburg (Tier-2), have been identified in accordance with the criteria mentioned above. Van Rensburg reached the semi-final in the 800m in Rio.
Van Niekerk and five other international stars have not been labelled under the mentioned Tier-1 and/or -2 criteria, but have been identified as the “Operation Excellence Squad”.
The other athletes who have been classified under this category are Akani Simbini (100m), the two long jumpers, Rushwal Samaai and Luvo Manyonga, as well as Sunette Viljoen (javelin) and Caster Semenya (800m).
ASA added that the progress of athletes in the preparation squad will be monitored at the South African senior track and field championships in Potchefstroom in April, after which the squad will be updated.
The president of ASA, Aleck Skosana, said: “We mean serious business here and we are focused. We are now ranked fifth in the world after achieving four medals at the Rio Olympics and in order to improve we need to work in longer cycles and plan ahead. This squad is the next step as part of the new four-year cycle and we call on all athletes in the squad to work with ASA in preparation for major events, in order for South Africa to continue climbing the international rankings.” – RUFUS BOTHA