Four of South Africa’s in-form track stars will open their international campaigns on Friday night (tomorrow), when they tackle the world elite at the IAAF Diamond League Meeting in Doha, Qatar.
Sprinter Akani Simbine, middle-distance runner Caster Semenya and hurdlers Cornel Fredericks and LJ van Zyl will all compete at the opening leg of the annual series made of 14 legs.
Simbine, who leads the national rankings with his 9.92 seconds performance in Tshwanein March, will turn out in the Men’s 100m dash.
Preparing for a baptism of fire in his first international race of the year, the Rio Olympic finalist will meet American Justin Gatlin a former world and Olympic champion, 22-year-old Canadian prospect Andre de Grasse the bronze medallist at last year’s Rio Games, Jamaican powerhouse Asafa Powell a former world record holder, and African champion Ben Youssef Meite of the Ivory Coast.
Though some of the other favourites have not yet raced outdoors this year, Simbine has displayed superb form by clocking five of the seven fastest times in the world at this early stage of the season, and he will go into the short-sprint battle among the favourites for victory.
Semenya, who cemented her place at the top of the national Women’s 800m rankings with her 2:00.99 victory at the SA Student Championships in Cape Town last week, has shown good form over a variety of distances this year, and she will be eager to take a chunk off her Season’s Best in the two-lap event.
She faces a full-strength line-up which includes Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenyan athlete Margaret Wambui, who earned the silver and bronze medals behind Semenya at the Rio Olympics.
Adding further excitement to a quality field, Ethiopian star Genzebe Dibaba will drop down in distance to tackle the best two-lap stars on the circuit.
Dibaba, the 1 500m world record holder, set an indoor 800m Personal Best of 2:00.62 in Madrid in February and her long kick will give her a chance against the shorter distance specialists.
South Africa, meanwhile, will launch a double-edged attack in the Men’s 400m Hurdles, where Commonwealth Games champion Fredericks and SA record holder Van Zyl will both turn out in the one-lap sprint over the barriers.
Abderrahaman Samba of Qatar, who clocked 48.31 in Sasolburg (South Africa) in March, is the only man in the line-up to have run faster than the South African duo this season, but they will all face an onslaught from Olympic gold medallist Kerron Clement of the United States, as well as Kenyan world champion Nicholas Bett and countryman Boniface Mucheru, who bagged Olympic silver in Rio.
Having settled in first and second place respectively in the latest 2017 national rankings, Fredericks (49.27) and Van Zyl (49.29) will hope to approach the 49-second barrier and make a statement ahead of a lengthy international season.
“At the beginning of the season we expect great performances from our athletes whether in Doha or elsewhere,” said ASA president, Aleck Skhosana.“We are optimistic that the international season will reveal the amount of work that has been done by our esteemed coaches and athletes.
“ASA is in better shape with all the parties working towards achieving the same objectives and goals for the country. We encourage our junior and youth athletes to do more to make it in the senior age category this season.
“Congratulations to the athletes in advance fortheir competition in Doha and elsewhere!”
Meanwhile, ASA has also cautioned on the latest national Top 10 rankings, drawing attention to related decisions.
“Please note that since ASAhas not yet received a satisfactory explanation for the electronic timing system used in Bloemfontein during ASA Speed Series 2 that appeared to be defective, all electronic times achieved at the mentioned event have been removed from the ASA Top 10 Ranking List.
“The SA Record set in the 110mHurdles Men during the mentioned event, will also not be ratified.”
Programme of SA athletes competing at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha on Friday night (SA times):
6.25pm – Caster Semenya (800m Women)
7.25pm – Akani Simbine (100m Men)
7.35pm – Cornel Fredericks, LJ van Zyl (400m Hurdles Men).
Athletics South Africa