24 July 2014
South Africa begins its medals hunt at the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Thursday, with Richard Murray the country’s first serious medal contender in the individual triathlon taking place at Strathcylde Park in the afternoon.
The 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run event is one of 57 events across nine sports in which Team South Africa athletes will compete in on day one.
Hockey, badminton, and lawn bowls commence with their preliminary rounds, while there are medal competitions that will be finalised by the end of the day in judo, rhythmic gymnastics, weightlifting, cycling, swimming and triathlon.
South African triathletes
England’s Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee, the Olympic gold medallist, sandwich Murray in the triathlon’s starting line-up of 47 competitors that also includes South Africans Henri Schoeman and 21-year-old Wian Sullwald.
Schoeman and Sullwald are strong swimmers and can be expected to go out with the lead bunch, but will be hoping also to pull Murray, in the weakest of his three disciplines, as close to the lead bunch as possible.
‘A difficult call’
“It’s a difficult call as to how much they assist,” Lindsey Parry, the coach and manager of the five-triathlete team, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Staying too far off pace risks us having no one in the lead bunch, but if they go on their own they could leave Richard too far behind to make the jump in the cycle.
“It’s probably more about them not sharing the lead and slowing the race by what they don’t do,” Parry, who believes Murray is capable of beating the Browlee brothers in the run, reckoned.
‘Murray’s a very good runner’
The Englishmen know they have to leave Murray from the gun. “Murray’s a very good runner,” warned Jonathan. “He’s beaten me twice this year, and was a world duathlon champion as a junior.
“He’s not the best swimmer, but he’s improved. But if he swims a minute down, which he may well do, you might not see him at the front of the race.”
Murray is motivated and focused on winning South Africa’s first medal. “If I’m off the podium, I’ll be disappointed,” said the Cape-based triathlete.
“It’s a hard course. We are going to have to work hard on the cycle. With so many shall steep climbs, the legs will get a pounding, which will impact on the run. That could work for me.”
Swimming, which is expected to be a major medal earner for Team South Africa, begins on Thursday, with Myles Brown the first out of the blocks at 11:50 (South African time) in the 400m freestyle and one of around 10 medal potentials in the pool.
Karin Prinsloo, Roland Schoeman, and Chad le Clos, who South Africa are relying on for medals, will also commence their campaigns and there is an outside chance of a medal in the women’s relays.
“The girls, in particular, have been swimming faster than expected with slick changeovers in the relay,” said coach Wayne Riddin, who feels nine to 10 medals is a fair ask of the team.
“We have the experienced swimmers here and importantly they will help the youngsters, who really need to gain the experience [for the Rio Olympics],” Riddin said.
“My biggest concern is that we focus too much on the medals and not on the times,” he added. “It’s normally better to focus on the time. The medals then come. We mustn’t get caught up in the pressure.”
Olympic gold medallist Cameron van der Burgh will begin his bid for two individual breaststroke gold medals and some relay hardware on Friday.
The women’s hockey team is expected to score a comfortable victory in their preliminary match against Trinidad and Tobago, as Marsha Cox and her teammates work their way towards a place in the knockout section of the competition.
“We should be able to get the points tomorrow (Thursday) against Trinidad, but New Zealand and Canada will be tough matches,” Cox reckoned.
“We can never really be sure what’s coming when you play India, so that’s going to be a key match. We would hope to make it to at least the semi-finals. That’s realistic.”
In June, South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) President Gideon Sam set a target of 43 medals for Team South Africa. That would be an improvement of 10 medals over the team’s performance four years ago at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.