Athletics chiefs drop the baton

21 June 2016 - 10:13 By DAVID ISAACSON

South Africa's dream of an Olympic medal in the 4x100m relay appears to be evaporating, with the sprint outfit to get just one training session in Durban today.That's all the time they will get to practise changeovers ahead of the African championships that starts tomorrow on the freshly laid track at the Kings Park athletics stadium.And observers say that won't be enough time, because the sprinters will not want to practise at high speed since they are running in the 100m heats tomorrow morning.The relay team was initially supposed to assemble yesterday - not that the extra day was sufficient preparation time either - but then flights were altered at late notice, a team management member said.It is not known why travel arrangements were changed.South Africa will enter all four relays at the African championships - the men's and women's 4x100m and 4x400m races, but it is the men's one-lap combination that carries the biggest chance of success at the Rio Games in August.At full strength, this unit could boast three sub-10-second runners in Akani Simbine, the national record-holder with 9.96 seconds, Henricho Bruintjies (9.97) and Wayde van Niekerk (9.98) as well as world championship 200m bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana.A bronze behind Jamaica and the US is within their capability - if this relay team can qualify.With Jobodwana in a late attempt to get race fit after a lengthy injury, and Van Niekerk yet to commit, Simbine and Bruintjies will lead a team that could possibly include two juniors, Gift Leotlela and Clarence Munyai, who have both achieved Olympic qualifying times in the 200m. Those four, all Tuks runners, might gel the quickest.The team needs to post two good times, in the heats and the final on Thursday and Friday, to qualify for Rio. The aggregate of a team's best two times is used.The irony is that, so far, 40 South Africans have achieved qualifying criteria in track and field. If they were to be selected come the July 11 qualifying deadline, this would be the country's biggest athletics squad at least since readmission.But qualifying the relay depended on administrators talking with athletes and their managers early enough to co-ordinate relay practice and qualification attempts.Observers believe they should have targeted attempts in the US in March or in Europe in recent weeks, and to have left the African championships as a last-gasp chance if those shots failed. But the boardroom guys didn't get it together. As usual, SA's athletes are expected to be world class, but there is no limit to the size of clown shoes paraded by some officials.The Kings Park track was officially handed to the municipality yesterday. Athletes can start training on the track - which has a slight spongy feel - from today, according to a competition official.

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