So close for Van Coller

26 August 2004

As the Athens Olympics heads towards its conclusion, it has been a mixed bag for South Africa’s athletes, with no more medals after four in the first week, and the results in many cases something of a disappointment, especially in track and field. We’re not done yet, though …

National Olympic Committee of South Africa 800 metres: twin hopes
There was some good news in the men’s 800 metres. Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, who struggled with illness and injury in the run-up to Athens, showed good form to win his first round heat in a decent 1:45.72.

Hezekiel Sepeng, a silver medal winner all of eight years ago in Atlanta, finished second in his heat, comfortably qualifying for the semi-finals ahead of the third-placed finisher.

Hurdles: one of three through
A trio of 400 metres hurdles athletes won through to the semi-finals, but only one advanced to the final.

Llewellyn Herbert, a bronze medal winner four years ago, clocked a decent 48.57 in his race, but it left him short of a place in the final, as he ended fifth. Okkert Cilliers, who led the world for most of the year with a time of 48.02, managed only 49.01 and a sixth spot in his semi-final.

Alwyn Myburgh rose to the challenge, however, running a season’s best 48.21 to win through to the final. Hot gold medal favourite Felix Sanchez won in 47.93, with Poland’s Marek Plawgo second in 48.16, just in front of the young South African.

Diving turnaround
Diver Jenna Dreyer put a horror showing in the 10-metre platform event behind her, finding the fortitude and belief to qualify for the semi-finals of the three-metre springboard.

It was a great turnaround for the 18-year-old, who finished stone last in the 10-metre event, a result that left her in tears.

‘No way I could have gone any harder’
Sprint canoeist Alan van Coller started the week slowly, finishing sixth in his heat in the K1 1 000 metre race on Monday. He complained of stiff forearms, but did enough to qualify for the semi-finals.

Two days later, in the semis, he improved his finish by one place, taking fifth, but it wasn’t enough to earn Van Coller a place in the final.

Sandwiched between the 1 000-metre races, the Johannesburg-based star qualified for the semi-finals of the K1 500-metre event by winning his heat. He felt confident heading into Thursday’s semi-finals, but came home in fourth spot to miss out on the finals by one place; third position would have been enough for a place in the medal decider.

“Man, I wanted that final so badly”, Van Coller said after the race. “In the last hundred metres I was going in overdrive. The horizon was moving in front of my eyes. There is no way I could have gone any harder.”

Men’s hockey: enough chances
The men’s hockey team got the week off to a bad start when they were soundly beaten by New Zealand, going down 4-1, thus consigning them to the playoff for positions 9 to 12.

Although the Kiwis deserved to win on the balance of play, South Africa had enough chances to match them, and penalty corners did not reap the benefits New Zealand enjoyed as their short corner ace, Hayden Shaw, struck twice in quick succession to break open a 1-all game.

Two days later, South Africa found their stride against Egypt in the cross-pool playoffs to book themselves a game against Britain for ninth place after the British beat Argentina 4-1.

Led by a hat-trick from the brilliant Greg Nicol, South Africa crushed the African champions 5-1, leaving one wondering how the Egyptians ever managed to annex the continental title ahead of Craig Jackson and company earlier this year. Craig Fulton and Emile Smith also netted for South Africa in a comprehensive victory.

Track and field: few peaks
Among South Africa’s track and field athletes, few appear to have peaked for Athens. Nicoleen Cronje was way off the pace in the women’s 20-kilometre walk, ending in 47th position, nearly 12 minutes behind the winner.

Heide Seyerling-Quinn, running in the 200 metres, was a shadow of the woman who contested the 400 metres final in Sydney four years ago. Her time of 23.66 was good for fifth in a heat of six runners and not nearly good enough to advance to the second round.

Discus throwers Frantz Kruger and Hannes Hopley contested the final of the men’s discus, but never really challenged for a medal. Kruger, who won bronze in Sydney, ended fifth following the disqualification of Robert Fazekas for doping. However, he was over two metres behind Alexander Tammet, who took home bronze. Hopley ended eighth.

There was more disappointment for South Africa in the men’s 200 metres. Leigh Julius turned in a time of 20.80, but that meant he finished sixth in his heat, and with seven heats in total he had little chance of moving on.

Shaun Bownes managed only a sixth-place finish in round one of the 110 metres hurdles on Tuesday, but his time of 13.52 earned him a spot in the second round. Unfortunately, his 13.62 the next day kept him out of the semi-finals.

Sunette Viljoen contested the women’s javelin, but appeared a little out of her depth, ending eighteenth out of 22 in her qualifying group.

Megan Hall found the going tough in the triathlon, ending in 36th place, nearly 12 minutes behind the winner, Kate Allen of Australia.

In 2003 Okkert Brits won silver in the pole vault at the World Championships in Paris, and he showed good consistency. In fact, he performed so well that he moved to the top of the world rankings. However, he again failed to live up to expectations at a major championship, failing to qualify for the final of the pole vault.