JOHANNESBURG – The track and field euphoria of the last three years has made way for uncertainty on the eve of the IAAF World Championships in Doha at the end of the month.
The absence of Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk is not only a severe blow to South Africa’s medal hopes at the global showpiece but exposes the lack of depth.
The country will rely heavily on long jumpers Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai and South African 100m record holder Akani Simbine.
The trio has been South Africa’s top-performing track and field athletes this season, and they are expected to be the country’s top medal contenders in Doha.
The deadline for qualification expired at midnight on Friday where only 14 athletes – 11 men and three women – achieved Athletics SA’s (ASA) stringent standards. But ASA is expected to add more names to the list including athletes that have met the B-qualifying standards – the IAAF’s criteria – and relay teams.
Semenya will miss the event due to the IAAF’s controversial female eligibility rules while Van Niekerk last week announced he would not be in Doha.
South African track and field are not quite in the same shape as it was ahead of the previous world championships in London where the team won a total of six medals.
Van Niekerk and Semenya won four between them including two of three golds which launched South Africa into third place on the medals table. The country would be lucky to walk away with one this time.
Manyonga was the undisputed king of the long-jump pit with Samaai playing a proper support role with his bronze medal two years ago.
South Africa’s track and field stocks have dropped this year with none of its stars dominating as some did in the previous three years.
Manyonga has lost some of his invincibility with rising Cuban star Juan Miguel Echevarria taking some of his shine in the event.
Echevarria produced a season’s best 8.65m leap to claim the Diamond Trophy at the final in Zurich denying Manyonga a third consecutive overall series title.
African champion Samaai has not been at his best either with his season’s best jump of 8.21m ranked 17th in the world this year.
Simbine remains one of the top sprinters in the world, but South Africa’s fastest man would not be happy with anything less than a podium spot at this year’s global showpiece. He has experienced a seesaw season but produced his third sub-10 second time of the year in Berlin on the first day of September.