Plenty of hope in SA sprint relay team, but can they win titles? – The Citizen

The South African men’s 4x100m relay team finished second at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and fifth at the 2019 World Championships, and after flopping a baton change at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, they will be eager to bounce back by reaching the podium at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July and the World Championships in Eugene in August.

No SA athletes have dipped under 10 seconds this year, but it is still relatively early in what will be a long season, and they do have the quality and depth to be competitive at the highest level.

We take a closer look at which athletes are in form, who won’t be available, and which countries stand in South Africa’s way of winning gold medals.

Who do we have?

Clarence Munyai is ranked 15th in the world this year in the 100m sprint with a season’s best of 10.04, and while Akani Simbine hasn’t run faster than 10.11 in the 2022 campaign, he should be hitting his straps within the next couple of months and has the experience to anchor the squad.

Munyai and Simbine will be backed by the likes of 19-year-old Benjamin Richardson (10.08), powerhouse sprinter Emile Erasmus (10.11), former national record holder Henricho Bruintjies (10.13), 18-year-old Mukhethwa Tshifura (10.19), 17-year-old Bradley Nkoana (10.21) and 18-year-old Neo Mosebi (10.23), who all add significant depth to the national squad.

The junior athletes will have to negotiate an additional event, with their focus on the World Athletics U-20 Championships in Cali in August, but they could add some extra spark to the senior team.

And while Olympic semi-finalists Shaun Maswanganyi (10.27) and Gift Leotlela (10.30) have not yet found their best form this year, they will be aiming to peak later this season, in a 2022 campaign which has been packed in the aftermath of the Covid lockdown.

Who is missing?

While the SA team won gold at the World Relays last year, they are set to be stripped of that title after it was recently revealed that Thando Dlodlo tested positive for testosterone.

Dlodlo will miss the entire 2022 and 2023 seasons due to his doping offence, and he won’t be available for selection again until the end of next year.

He might not be too sorely missed by his teammates, however, for multiple reasons, not least of which is that they will know they can win titles without him.

Someone who might be more notably absent, if he is not available, is Wayde van Niekerk.

Though he has struggled to regain his best form over 400m since returning from a serious knee injury, Van Niekerk has shown flashes of speed, and a focus on shorter distances might be on the cards.

If he does drop down in his specialist distance, the 400m world record holder will be a valuable asset to the sprint relay squad, but for now, he remains unavailable while concentrating on his top-flight return in the one-lap event.

Strongest opposition

While the fastest man in the world this year is Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala, who clocked 9.85 in Nairobi earlier this month, the strength in depth lies with America who will line up as favourites for the 4x100m world title.

Six of the 10 quickest men over 100m this season are from the United States and they will be difficult to beat.

Their strongest opposition is likely to come from Nigeria, who boast four athletes who have run 10.07 or quicker this year.

Aside from South Africa, however, there will be other countries looking to cause an upset at the World Championships, including the likes of Great Britain, Canada, Ghana and consistent performers Japan, while former relay powerhouse Jamaica will want to prove they are not a spent force and Italy will be eager to show their gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics was no fluke.

Though the US will not compete at the Commonwealth Games, the SA squad will still have to be at their best to beat the likes of Canada, England, Ghana and Jamaica.

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