ASA drops the baton

19 June 2016 - 02:00 By DAVID ISAACSON

Administrators have jeopardised a potential Olympic medal for South Africa at the Rio Games, athletes, coaches and other observers have charged.The SA men's 4x100m relay team has the firepower to make the podium in Brazil in August, especially if the lineup features 2015 world championship stars Wayde van Niekerk and Anaso Jobodwana.But first the outfit must qualify for Brazil - and that will come down to two races at the African championships in Durban this week.The team will have its first practice tomorrow morning, and that is likely to be without Akani Simbine, owner of the 9.96sec South Africa 100m record, who is scheduled to join them only on Tuesday after competing in the US.SA's qualifying chances in Durban lie with Simbine, Henricho Bruintjies, with a 9.97 personal best, and two others; Jobodwana is unavailable because of injury and Van Niekerk has yet to commit to the relay.Qualification is still possible, but they are cutting it fine.The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee has instructed its high performance coach, Frank Dick, to help ASA."We have an expert in the country who is basically at their service," Sascoc chief executive Tubby Reddy replied when asked about relay qualification. "He's busy with them."In fact, we've even told Frank, don't worry about swimming, don't worry about rowing - those guys have got their act together. Focus on Athletics SA." We had two days to practise at world champs, but we had already worked the angles by then Dick, a former head coach of the British track and field team, said practice was vital. "The 4x100, you can be two-hundredths of a second out in your judgment and the baton falls on the floor or doesn't get anywhere."That's why that has to be practised very hard. You have to practise it at maximum speed."The Chinese team that won silver at the world championships last year had only one sub-10-second 100m runner in its midst, but their changeovers were drilled to perfection.At full strength South Africa would have three sub-10 100m sprinters and a sub-20 200m athlete.Mathew Quinn, a member of South African's 4x100m relay team that won gold at the 2001 world championships in Edmonton, Canada, said they had combined for relays at local meets earlier that season."We had two days to practise at world champs, but we had already worked the angles by then. We just had to sharpen up," said Quinn.An unpractised SA team bombed at the 2015 world championships when Bruintjies couldn't get the baton to Jobodwana, and it emerged later they had been given dubious advice by an ASA-appointed coach with limited international experience.The team members were keen on this relay getting to Rio, but warned ASA would need to coordinate with them before they finalised their individual racing schedules for 2016.ASA president Aleck Skhosana insisted the federation had done this, saying the athletes' representatives had forced them to drop plans to appoint a relay coach and manager."We wanted to have that, but the personal managers and coaches had a different view," said Skhosana."They were [competing] in Europe and couldn't make it, and ASA does not want to prevent athletes from making money overseas."At least two relay athletes have said they were not approached by ASA before the European season started in May. Added one: "I don't think they're useless, I think they just don't care."Yet one ASA board member recently expressed surprise when told by the Sunday Times that the Olympic qualifying standard for relays stipulated the aggregate of a team's two best times.The South African 4x100m relay squad will have to run the heats and final in Durban at an estimated 38.7sec average - or faster - to hopefully be fast enough come the Games qualifying deadline on July

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