Despite facing intimidating line-ups, the country’s most promising sprinters are hoping to blow their careers wide open by taking some significant scalps at the SA Senior Championships in Potchefstroom over the next two days.
Defending champion Clarence Munyai and fellow teenager Gift Leotlela, who set national junior records over 100m (10.12) and 200m (20.10) respectively last month, were set to line up in the 200m sprint, while 21-year-old Thando Roto, fresh off a 100m personal best of 9.95, was gearing up for the short sprint contest.
The trio, all coached by Hennie Kriel in Pretoria, were confident of putting up a fight for medals, and while Kriel believed they could muzzle some of the big guns, he insisted they were not getting ahead of themselves with the likes of Olympic 100m finalist Akani Simbine, World Championships 200m bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana and Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk standing in their way.
“We’re not underestimating any of these athletes. Akani is a sub-9.90 runner and we’re aware of that,” Kriel said this week.
“What I really want is for these guys to enjoy it because you only run fast when you’re enjoying it.”
With wide open contests in the sprint events, Kriel was reluctant to make a prediction, but with a handful of world-class speedsters ready to burn up the track, he did admit he expected quick times.
“I’m really looking forward to the 100m and 200m finals, and I am willing to predict we are going to see sub-10s in the (100m) semifinals,” Kriel said.
Though much of the hype in the build-up to the annual championships revolved around the nation’s in-form speedsters, a number of other athletes were also expected to stick up their hands ahead of the international track and field campaign.
Supremely talented long jumper Luvo Manyonga was the favourite for the men’s long jump title after smashing Khotso Mokoena’s eight-year-old SA record with a massive 8.62m leap last month, but he was up against the likes of Ruswahl Samaai, Zarck Visser and Stefan Brits.
And while resurgent athlete Cornel Fredericks was reported to have picked up a hamstring injury on the eve of the event, national record holder LJ van Zyl was up against a quality field in the men’s 400m hurdles in what could be another spectacular final.