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SA's 4x100m World Relay champions crash out of Tokyo Games

05 August 2021 - 05:26 By david isaacson
SA's Chederick van Wyk stands motionless after his team had crashed out at the first handover in the 4x100m relay heats at the Tokyo Olympics.
SA's Chederick van Wyk stands motionless after his team had crashed out at the first handover in the 4x100m relay heats at the Tokyo Olympics.
Image: REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

SA’s highly fancied 4x100m relay team crashed out of the heats at the Tokyo Games on Thursday morning, failing at the first handover.

Clarence Munyai and Shaun Maswanganyi looked more like the comic relief of an event where SA were expected to compete for a medal after going into the showpiece as the World Relay champions.

In a bizarre mix-up Munyai, starting the relay, failed to find Maswanganyi and nearly ran into him, looking at one point as if he was trying to hitch a piggyback ride.

All the athletes who started the race held the batons in their right hands, including Munyai. That meant they needed to pass to their teammates’ left hands, and to facilitate that they needed to move to the left side of their lanes.

They all did that except for Munyai who shifted to the right of the SA lane, away from Maswanganyi’s waiting left hand, and half ran into the back of him.

Munyai was part of the team that won gold at World Relays in Poland in early May, running the third leg which was also a right hand-left hand switch.

Poor anchor Akani Simbine, fourth in the individual 100m on Sunday, could do nothing but watch the horror show unfold. It was the same for Chederick van Wyk, whose only race at the Olympics was this relay.

He was selected as a reserve but cemented his spot after Gift Leotlela, who was supposed to run the opening leg of the relay, was injured at the weekend.

Munyai didn’t stop to talk to the media after the disaster, but US-based student Maswanganyi, in tears afterwards, took the blame.

“Coming into the competition I was practising exchanges with Gift. I don’t like making excuses but at the end of the day I didn’t get out the same way I had been practising,” said Maswanganyi, who made the semifinals of both the 100m and 200m individual races.

“I only started practising with Clarence yesterday so I’d say I’m not really used to the exchange with Clarence, but there are no excuses. I should have been better. But there’s a lot more to work on. I always take accountability for my mistakes ... I’ll still put in more work.”

SA weren’t the only high-profile casualties in the relay heats, with the US failing to qualify for Friday’s final.

The relay team was the last of SA’s 13 medal hopes to compete at the Games.

From here on out, SA’s last chances of adding to its haul of three medals are all outsiders, like the men's 4x400m relay team, which competes in the heats on Friday, the women’s marathon on Saturday and the men’s on Sunday.

Kyle Blignaut fought hard before finishing sixth in the men’s shot put final, one spot behind SA-born Italian Zane Weir.

The 21-year-old Blignaut, the world under-20 champion in 2018, threw a best of 21m, 41cm behind Weir’s personal best.

“I’m happy with the finish today,” said Blignaut. “I think shot put is at an all-time high at the moment so to be in the top six in the world at a major championships, I feel like that’s an awesome achievement.”

Elsewhere, two-time Midmar Mile champion Michael McGlynn scored SA’s best placing in a marathon swim since it became an Olympic sport in 2008, ending the 10km race in eighth position.

The 21 year old from Durban found himself lying 25th early on, but he powered his way through the field until he got into the top eight with about 1km to go.

He clocked 1 hr 51 min 32.7 sec, 2:59 behind German Florian Wellbrock, who won by the biggest margin seen so far, with a 25.3 sec gap over runner-up Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary.

The three previous men’s races were far narrower. 

Before Thursday SA’s best result in this event at a Games had been ninth, by Chad Ho at Beijing 2008, though he had been only 21.5 seconds off the pace then. Five years ago Ho was 10th and five seconds behind.

In the men’s 20km race walk Wayne Snyman ended 20th in 1:24:33, 3:28 behind Italian winner Massimo Stano.

Park skateboarder Dallas Oberholzer, at 46 the oldest member of Team SA, ended 20th with a best score of 24.08.