Athletics South Africa (ASA) has taken a proactive approach by kick-starting a long term plan to assist its athletes ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, even as the federation on Friday, 13th January, released a list of 39 athletes tagged the ‘Senior Preparation Squad’ in the build up to the Games.
According to ASA’s Media Officer Sifiso Cele, the federation has identified athletes with potential and has put them in various excellence programmes according to their individual rankings. The athletes are divided into three classes.
The highest ranked athletes belong to the ‘Operation Excellence Squad’ and consist of six athletes led by World Record (WR) holder in the 400m, Wayde Van Niekerk. Others are 800m Olympic Champion Caster Semenya, Akani Simbine, Rushwal Samaai and Olympic Silver medallists Luvo Manyonga and Sunette Viljoen. All six athletes got to the final of their respective events in Rio, with four of them winning medals.
The next set of athletes are grouped under the ‘ASA Elite Excellence Squad – Tier 1’, referring to athletes who were ranked Top 20 in the world in 2016. They include Elroy Gelant (5000m), Stefan Brits (Long Jump), Antonio Alkana (110m Hurdles), Wenda Nel (400m Hurdles), L.J. van Zyl (400m Hurdles) and Lynique Prinsloo (Long Jump).
The remaining 27 athletes belong to the ‘ASA Elite Excellence Squad –Tier 2’. These are athletes who met the IAAF World Championships standards in the course of their 2016 campaign. The likes of Carina Horn, Alyssa Conley, Stephen Mokoka, Gift Leotlela and Henricho Bruintjies belong to this class.
The progress of the athletes will be monitored at the South African Senior Championships in April, after which the squad will be updated.
ASA President Aleck Skhosana said: “We mean serious business here and are focused. We are now ranked 5th in the world after achieving four medals at the Rio Olympics and in order to improve, we need to work in longer cycles and plan ahead.”