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Seventeen SA athletes in the twilight zone

They don't know if they will be picked for world championships

02 July 2017 - 00:00 By David Isaacson

Seventeen South African athletes are trapped in a twilight zone of uncertainty as they dare to dream of the world championships in London next month.
They have all achieved the qualifying standards stipulated by the world governing body, the IAAF, but they are short of tougher criteria imposed by Athletics SA (ASA).
The qualifying window closes on July 23, and at the start of this weekend 19 athletes - 15 men and four women - were eligible for automatic selection on ASA's A standards.
Many of the 17, not knowing if they will get the nod for discretionary selection by ASA's selectors, plan to persevere with qualifying in the next three weeks. Yet, success there could risk emptying the tank for London.
"I've lined up races for July to race as much as possible and try [to qualify]," said one athlete. "If we go to worlds I hope we have something left."
Nine of the 17 are Olympians, but the A standards appear beyond the reach of most.
Fourteen will need to crack personal bests, including all the women, Alyssa Conley (200m), Dominique Scott (5000m), Anel Oosthuizen (20km walk) and Claudia Heunis (100m hurdles).The toughest standard is in the men's 400m hurdles, where the four IAAF qualifiers have yet to go 48.50sec, a time that would place one 11th on the 2016 world rankings.
In several events ASA has assigned tougher standards for women than men, once converted to 2016 world rankings.
The biggest disparities are in the marathon (250th ranking for men compared to 98th for women) and 5000m (106 to 43). One of 22 men's events, the 50km walk, needs a South African record for an A standard, as opposed to eight of 21 women's events, illustrating the poor state of local women's athletics.Many in the sport believe ASA's stringent criteria are unhealthy. "To inspire the younger generation, we need more athletes [in the team], not less," said a former athlete.
This is ASA's 'pull strategy'
But ASA president Aleck Skhosana says the criteria form part of the federation's "pull strategy" to raise standards, as has happened in the men's sprints and long jump.
"We want our athletes to be semifinalists, finalists and medallists, not just qualify," said Skhosana, adding that selectors would pick IAAF qualifiers deemed capable of progressing beyond the early rounds of competition.
The statistics don't seem to support ASA.
South Africa has won 21 world championship medals in total, with 14 athletes taking 18 individual gongs. But only three made the podium on debut - Caster Semenya, Llewellyn Herbert and Marius Corbett.
Gold medallists Wayde van Niekerk, Hestrie Cloete and Jacques Freitag are among those who failed to advance beyond the first round of competition at their maiden world championships.
Time could prove ASA right, but then again, the federation arguably threw away an Olympic medal by omitting Akani Simbine from the 200m at the Rio Games last year.

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