16 July 2014
South Africa’s Commonwealth Games athletes, coaches and administrators were in confident mood on Tuesday as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula wished them well at send-off functions in Pretoria and Johannesburg.
The team, which is currently at a training camp in Johannesburg, leaves for Glasgow, Scotland on Wednesday. The twentieth edition of the Commonwealth Games takes place from 23 July to 3 August.
South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) president Gideon Sam, interviewed on the sidelines of the Johannesburg send-off, said: “We have set our target for 40 medals, and out of those 40 we want at least 15 gold, which would give us a very good position of around fifth on sixth on the medal table, and that’s what it is all about.
“You can have all the medals, but if you don’t have gold medals you just don’t feature on the medal table,” Sam said.
“For us, the medal table is what is important, and when you listen to the athletes and the coaches and the technical officials, I don’t think I have seen a higher confidence level than I have seen today. It is a good sign for us that we are ready for a good one.”
‘Swimming is in good form’
Questioned from where he expected the South African team’s medals to come, Sam said: “I’m looking at swimming. Swimming is in good form, and I am looking at lawn bowls. I am looking at wrestling, our wrestlers did very well in India. We are overdue in boxing. We are overdue in weightlifting, so, yes, we believe that there is enough spread of medals, anchored by swimming.”
He was a little less buoyant about the prospects of track and field athletes, given the administrative problems that have haunted the sport in South Africa in recent times. “I am a little bit reluctant to say that athletics will also contribute, but I know that the athletes will give us their best.
“I think what we need to do with athletics is to take the athletes from the Commonwealth Games and prepare them 120 percent for the Olympics, because what we really need to do is to have those two – swimming and athletics – anchoring the rest of the team,” Sam reckoned.
Potential swimming medallists
Graham Hill, who was head coach of the South African swimming team in London, and who coaches golden boy Chad le Clos, identified some of the potential medallists from among the team, saying: ” The swimmers have got some good results in the past and we have Cameron van der Burgh up there with two events, we have Roland Schoeman in two events, we’ve got Chad le Clos in six events, we’ve got Sebastian Rosseau, Dylan Bosch, all highly ranked, Karin Prinsloo is a medal hope in the freestyle events, so we’re looking pretty good.
Le Clos is facing a stiff challenge, as Hill explained: “He’s taken on a big programme. He’s in six individual events and three relays, so its nine races. It’s a tough programme. It’s something no one has attempted before, so it’s going to be great, and we’re testing it on the road to Rio.”
Pushed to offer up how he thinks the swimmers could do, Hill said: “I would really be happy if we could come home with nine or 10 medals.”
In India, the swimming team fared well, winning seven of the South African team’s 12 gold medals, along with four silver and five bronze medals.
The big guns in the South African team are undoubtedly Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh.
Le Clos won the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley at the 2010 Games, added a silver in the 4 x 100m medley relay, and bronze medal in the 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m freestyle. Van der Burgh did the double in the 100m and 200m breaststroke and was part of the silver medal-winning medal relay quartet. Le Clos and Van der Burgh later went on to win Olympic gold medals in London in 2012 in the 200m butterfly and 100m breaststroke respectively.
Le Clos is a better swimmer than he was four years ago, while Van der Burgh remains the world’s leading breaststroke swimmer. They both face very tough opposition, as swimming is a particular strength among a number of Commonwealth countries, but should be able to add to their impressive medals collections.
Someone who has emerged as a legitimate medal threat since Delhi is distance swimmer Myles Brown, who will contest the 400m and 1 500m, as well as the 200m freestyle relay. He has proved his ability time and time again on the Fina World Cup circuit and during 2013 he smashed Ryk Neethling’s South African record for the 1 500m by almost three seconds. However, it is in the 400m where he believes he has the best chance of success.
Recently, on the Mare Nostrum circuit in Europe, Brown won gold over the 200m, 400m and 800m distances, picking up seven medals, six of them gold, in Monaco, Canet and Barcelona. His sole silver was in the 1 500m.
While not identifying potential medal-winning performances from Karin Prinsloo, Hill said: “Karen started what has been a great year well in in Australia at the BHP Billiton Aquatic Series in Perth. She has got better and better and she has had a great summer in Europe now and she’s ready to go.”
South African lawn bowlers stood out in Delhi, winning three gold medals in the women’s and men’s triples and the men’s pairs. Included in the line-up this time around are Gerry Baker, who won gold in the pairs with Shaun Addinall, and the trips gold medal winning team of Tracy-Lee Botha, Susan Nel and Susanna Steyn.
While a number of South African men will be eyeing medals in track and field competition, javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen will be aiming the first woman in the history of the Commonwealth Games to win three gold medals in succession. England’s Tessa Sanderson has three gold medals to her name, but they came in four Games: 1978, 1986 and 1990.
To win gold again, though, Viljoen will have to see off the challenge of Australia’s Kimberley Mickle, who with a throw of 66.83 metres has the second best mark of 2014 in the world. Viljoen’s best so far is 64.77, which also trails another Australian, Kathryn Mitchell, who has twice bettered the South African star’s mark.
The performance of 100m sprinter Simon Magakwe will be one to watch. He became the first South African to break the 10-second barrier in April, but up against a wave of outstanding Jamaican speedsters a medal would be a huge bonus for the South African champion.
The country looked a good bet for a 4 x 100m relay medal, but the withdrawal of Anaso Jobodwana, a 200m finalist at the London Olympic Games, on Monday has undermined the team’s prospects. Jobodwana said he was not in form after undergoing hernia surgery earlier in the year.
An interesting medal prospect is 400m runner Wayde van Niekerk, who smashed the South African record in New York City at the beginning of June, clocking a time of 44.38.
Three Commonwealth Games’ athletes are ranked above him, world leader Kirani James of Grenada (43.74), Isaac Makwala of Botswana (44.01) and Deon Lendore of Trinidad and Tobago (44.36). James should rightfully be regarded as the gold medal favourite, but a medal of another colour is a definitely possibility for Van Niekerk.
Cornel Fredericks owns the second fastest time over the 400m hurdles among Commonwealth Games’ athletes his year, having stopped the clocks after 48.58 seconds in June, just one-tenth of a second slower than Jamaican Roxroy Cato’s best. Fredericks is a medal contender and LJ van Zyl, a gold medal winner in Melbourne in 2006 and a silver medallist in Delhi in 2010, is another possible medallist.
Middle distance prospects
South Africa boasts outstanding middle distance competitors in Andre Olivier (800m) and Johan Cronje (1 500m), but the problem they have is dealing with the strength of African middle distance running.
Olivier showed his form to be good by finishing in second place over the two-lap race at the most recent Diamond League meeting this past weekend in Glasgow. However, he was well behind Kenyan world record holder David Rudisha, who, when he is on song, is in a different league to any other runner on the planet.
Cronje, who surprised by winning a bronze medal at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, is also in good form. He finished fourth in the Diamond League meeting in 3:34.97, a decent time against strong competition, but Kenya’s Silas Kipligat, who won the event was more than two seconds clear of the South African.
Someone to keep an eye on is triathlete Richard Murray. He has been a star performer on the ITU World Triathlon Series, but in order to medal faces a double challenge from the outstanding Brownlee twins, Alistair and Jonathan, among others.
Alistair won the ITU World Series event in Hamburg on the weekend, but is ranked below Murray in the world rankings, in eighth place, with the South African in fourth place, while Jonathan occupies second place. The Brownlees, though, are the men to beat with Alistair having won the London Olympics and Jonathan having claimed the bronze medal.
Like the triathlon, cycling is a sport that is a strength of Commonwealth Games countries. South Africa has some outstanding talent, but would do well to claim a cycling medal. Perhaps the best medal prospect is track star Nolan Hoffman, who won silver in 2012 in the scratch race at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne.
Bernard Esterhuizen, who won the one-kilometre time trial at the UCI Junior World Championships in Italy in 2010, is an intriguing talent. In recent times he has shone while competing in the USA, and in sprint events anything is possible.
With Rio de Janeiro set to feature rugby at the Olympic Games for the first time in 2016, the competition in Glasgow takes on more significance than in the past.
The Blitzbokke should be in the hunt for a medal after finishing second on the the 2013/14 HSBC Sevens World Series. They lost some form towards the end of the Series as injuries took their toll, but the break between the last tournament in London in early May and the start of the Commonwealth Games should have done the team the world of good.
At their best, they should battle it out with New Zealand for the gold medal.