Akani, Wayde and Tatjana head Team SA as first batch of Olympic athletes announced

By Karien Jonckheere

Akani Simbine, Tatjana Smith and Wayde van Niekerk were all among the 39 athletes who officially had their tickets to Paris confirmed for later this year when the first Olympic team announcement was made by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SASCOC) in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Teams were announced across seven sporting codes, with two more official announcements to come in the next two months.

The athletics team is far from complete with the qualification period still open and those athletes booking their tickets via world rankings yet to be finally determined.

Among those at the team announcement on Wednesday was young 400m star Lythe Pillay, who has just returned from helping the South Africa 4x400m quartet to a silver medal at the recent World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas.

“It’s really exciting. It’s still a bit surreal,” he said of making the Olympic team. “I’m really process orientated. I’m always just fixated on training and doing what I have to do. I very seldom take time to sit back and really acknowledge what has just happened and what I’ve achieved… it’s given me more of a sense of motivation to progress and keep pushing.”

Also thrilled to have booked her trip to Paris was Cian Oldknow who is one of three women, along with Gerda Steyn and Irvette van Zyl, to have qualified in the marathon.

“Until it’s official, it’s always a bit like – ooh, are we actually going? So I think now it’s starting to sink in that I really made the team,” she said. “I’m very excited… I can’t wait for what’s coming. I’m so excited to be on the start line with all my role models.”

Meanwhile, heading the swimming team is Tokyo gold and silver medallist Tatjana Smith who will be looking to defend her 200m breaststroke title in the French capital.

 “It’s definitely nice to know it’s official,” she said after the announcement. “This is my second time going but it doesn’t make it any less exciting than the first time so I’m very excited.

“I’m feeling very motivated because you know you’re so close to the end – as in Paris, the thing that you’ve been working towards for so long. That definitely keeps you encouraged because you know there’s only about nine weeks left so that helps a lot.”

Others in the swimming team include the likes of SA’s most successful Olympian Chad le Clos, world championship medallist Pieter Coetzé and Commonwealth Games medallists Erin Gallagher and Kaylene Corbett.

The other sporting codes to have their teams announced were canoeing, climbing, gymnastics, surfing and wrestling.

Meanwhile, SASCOC announced the cash incentives that are up for grabs to South Africans who win medals in Paris. R400,000 will be awarded to gold medallists with R100,000 going to their coaches, R200 000 for silver medallists (with R50k for coaches) and R75 000 for bronze medals (R25k for coaches).

SA Olympic team so far:

AQUATICS

Men: Pieter Coetzé (100m, 200m backstroke), Chad le Clos (100m butterfly), Matthew Sates (100m, 200m butterfly and 200m IM)

Women: Aimee Canny (200m freestyle), Kaylene Corbett (200m breaststroke), Erin Gallagher (100m butterfly), Rebecca Meder (200m IM), Tatjana Smith (100m, 200m breaststroke), Julia Vincent (diving, 3m springboard)

ATHLETICS

Men: Luxolo Adams (200m), Stephen Mokoka (marathon), Zakhiti Nene (400m), Lythe Pillay (400m), Benjamin Richardson (200m), Akani Simbine (100m), Tshepo Tshite (1500m), Wayde van Niekerk (400m), Jovan van Vuuren (long jump), Adriaan Wildschutt (5000m, 10000m).

Women: Marione Fourie (100mH), Zeney Geldenhuys (400mH), Rogail Joseph (400mH), Cian Oldknow (marathon), Prudence Sekgodiso (800m), Gerda Steyn (marathon), Irvette van Zyl (marathon)

CANOEING

Men: Andrew Birkett (kayak sprint), Hamish Lovemore (kayak sprint)

Women: Tiffany Koch (kayak sprint), Esti Olivier (kayak sprint)

Management: Nkosi Mzolo (coach), Janet Simpkins (manager)

GYMNASTICS

Women: Caitlin Rooskrantz (artistic)

Management: Ilse Pelser (coach)

SPORT CLIMBING

Men: Joshua Bruyns (speed climbing), Mel Janse van Rensburg (lead & boulder)

Women: Aniya Holder (speed climbing), Lauren Mukheiber (lead & boulder)

Management: Dean Bruyns (manager), John-David Muller (official coach)

SURFING

Men: Matthew McGillivray, Jordy Smith

Women: Sarah Ann Baum

Management: Christopher Bond (coach), Rezar De Nicker (coach, manager)

WRESTLING

Men: Steyn de Lange (92kg), Marias Hattingh (training partner, 79kg)

Management: Jan Roets (coach)

 

SA champs wraps up with four new automatic qualifiers for Paris Olympics

The SA Athletics Championships came to an end in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday with four athletes having added their names to the list of automatic qualifiers for the Olympic Games later this year. They were Zeney Geldenhuys and Rogail Joseph in the 400m hurdles, Benjamin Richardson in the 200m and Lythe Pillay in the 400m, while Zakithi Nene achieved his second qualifying time over 400m at these championships.

The final day’s action saw Marione Fourie claiming a fourth straight national title in the 100m hurdles, winning in a time of 13.01 seconds with Kayla van der Bergh second in 13.40 and former SA record holder Taylon Bieldt third in 13.46.

Fourie admitted afterwards: “Before the race, my brain didn’t want to get the steps in before the first hurdle so I was a little bit stressed but the time wasn’t too bad for my second race [of the season].”

Eight-time champion in the 110m hurdles Antonio Alkana withdrew from the final after overstretching his calf muscle in the warm-up. In his absence, SW Nel claimed his first ever title in 13.73 seconds, so emulating his father and coach, Wimpie, who won the SA title twice, in 1992 and 1993.

“It feels amazing. I didn’t expect it at all. All the hard work is paying off so I’m glad. I have a good coach who I trust so I’m very happy at the moment,” said Nel junior afterwards.

As for being coached by his dad, he joked: “It’s a bit of a pain in the butt because he says: ‘My time was faster,’ or ‘I did it twice.’ So I have to win it two times more and beat his time so I’m almost on his level.”

Speaking about Alkana withdrawing from the final, Nel added: “I was a bit disappointed. If he had run, I think I would have run a better time but I’m happy with the position.”

Also thrilled was his proud dad: “Words can’t describe it. It’s a very humbling feeling,” he beamed.

Meanwhile, after her second place in the 5000m earlier in the competition, Prudence Sekgodiso comfortably defended her 1500m title, pulling away from the pack just before the bell, and cruising to victory in a time of 4:13.09. Charne Swart was second in 4:16.89 and Carina Viljoen third in 4:19.29.

“The race was something else. I have a calf problem, I felt it in the 5k and I wanted to come out in the 5k but I thought – let me just finish it – but the 1500 is my event so I had to show who I am and chase for that gold medal and that’s what I did. It was nice,” she said.

“I regret running that 5k to be honest. Honestly, that was my last,” added Sekgodiso who has set her sights on breaking the SA 1500m record.

Jerry Motsau had a tougher fight on his hands to claim the men’s 1500m title 10 years after winning his first. He fended off his challengers in the final 200m finishing in 3:38.82 with Nkosinathi Sibiya second in 3:39.02 and Niel van der Merwe third in 3:39.78.

“It was a bit of a challenge but if you’re strong in your head, you pull through. I told myself I mustn’t give up, I should run through the tape, so that’s what I did,” he said.

In the field events, Kyle Blignaut defended his shot put title with a best throw of 20.36m, while Mire Reinstorf took women’s pole vault gold with a clearance of 4.15m.