South Africa will not be represented in any relay event on the track at the Olympics for the first time since the 1992 Barcelona Games, after a second-string national men’s 4x100m team failed in a late qualifying bid on Saturday, along with elite middle-distance specialist Johan Cronje.
Having clocked 38.84 to win gold at the African Championships last month with a stronger quartet, a weakened sprint relay squad needed to break the SA record of 38.35 at the Flanders Cup meeting in Kortrijk, Belgium to place themselves in contention for one of 16 spots in Rio next month on aggregate rankings.
While they secured a solo victory, however, just two days before the qualifying deadline, their time of 40.03 was well outside the performance required to be invited to the Games.
With enough planning and preparation, boasting three men under the 10-second barrier in the short dash, the 4x100m relay squad were considered potential medallists at full strength, but the likes of Akani Simbine, Anaso Jobodwana and Wayde van Niekerk would instead focus exclusively on individual events.
The SA women’s 4x400m team had also put up their hands as potential Olympic qualifiers by setting a national record of 3:28.49 to win the African title in Durban last month, but with ASA waiting till the last minute to organise another attempt, most athletes were unavailable.
Cronje, meanwhile, could not find a place in the national team for the third straight edition of the Games after failing to finish the men’s 1 500m race in his final qualifying bid.
The 34-year-old former World Championships bronze medallist clocked 3:36.34 in Hengelo in May last year, just 0.14 outside the qualifying standard a few weeks after the window period opened, but he was unable to go any quicker over the last 13 months.
Cronje had reached the semifinals of the 2004 Athens Games, at the age of 22, but did not qualify for Beijing 2008 and missed out on London 2012 because he did not meet domestic criteria which required athletes to achieve standards at home and overseas.
In the men’s long jump in Kortrijk, Zarck Visser again struggled to find his best form after returning from a lengthy injury hiatus due to a stress fracture.
He could not get beyond 7.62m, falling 19 centimetres short of his season’s best to take third position behind Dutch winner Ignisious Gaisah, a former World Championships silver medallist, who reached 7.98m.
While Visser led the rankings among the six SA men who had achieved the 8.16m Olympic qualifying standard, with a leap of 8.41m in Bad Langensalza last season, domestic criteria required athletes to prove their fitness ahead of the Games to be considered for selection.
With three men – Ruswahl Samaai, Luvo Manyonga and Stefan Brits – having jumped beyond 8.20m this season, selectors were facing a tough decision ahead of next week’s Olympic team announcement, with only three spots available in the final squad for the Games.
The final Olympic team, across all codes, is expected to be announced by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) in Johannesburg on Thursday.