3 September 2007
South Africa’s athletes have a lot of work to do before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, judging by a disappointing showing at the World Athletics Championships in Osaka, where the team failed to land a single medal.
The country’s biggest hope for a medal, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, ranked number one in the world in the 800 metres, struggled in the final of the race, finishing seventh as Kenya’s Alfred Yego won in a pedestrian 1:47.09. That time was the slowest winning time in a major championship since the Olympic Games in 1956.
Mulaudzi was boxed in during the race, which seemed to affect his rhythm. Looking a little heavy in the legs, he failed to find a finishing sprint as he clocked 1:47.52. That was well off his season’s best time of 1:43.74 and over two seconds slower than his time in the semi-finals of 1:44.71.
The slow pace definitely didn’t suit the South African as the first 400 metres was passed in 55 seconds; in his semi-final heat that mark was reached in 50 seconds.
There was an encouraging performance from Robert Oosthuizen in the final of the javelin. The 20-year-old threw a career-best 84.52 metres with his first effort, which proved enough for him to claim sixth place.
Oosthuizen was happy with his showing, saying he couldn’t have asked for more. His 84.52 effort improved his personal best by 1.19 metres and, considering his age, the chances are good of him bettering that effort by the time the Beijing Games come around a year from now.
SA’s Head coach Wilf Daniels was pleased with Oosthuizen’s performance, describing it as the best of the championships for South Africa.
The highest finish by a South African came in the men’s long jump in which Khotso Mokoena claimed fifth place with a distance of 8.19 metres. He reached the final with the best jump of the qualifiers, leaping 8.28 metres.
While Mulaudzi disappointed in the 800 metres, the other major disappointment came in the men’s 400 metres hurdles.
Three athletes lined up in the heats, but only Ter de Villiers – third in heat three – advanced to the semi-finals. Alwyn Myburgh reinjured a hamstring during his heat, while LJ van Zyl, ranked number two in the world heading into the World Championships, inexplicably was beaten into fifth place in his heat.
The Commonwealth champion’s time of 49.71 was way below what he is capable of running. His personal best time is 48.05 and he had beaten all the leading athletes in the event during the course of the season.
No medals … again
Making South Africa’s lack of a medal winning performance in Osaka all the more concerning is the fact that two year’s previously, at the World Championships in Helsinki, the Rainbow Nation also came away empty-handed.
The country has far greater potential than the results indicate and the athletes themselves will, no doubt, be disappointed by their results. The fact is, in most instances, they failed to come even close to challenging for medals, producing results far below their personal expectations.
The question that needs to be asked is: what is going to be done between now and the Olympic Games in Beijing to get the country’s athletes onto the podium?
Another major championship without a medal would not only be disappointing but unacceptable. There is a year left to make things right.