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Akani Simbine at last year's national championships in Pretoria. Picture: Veli Nhlapo
Akani Simbine at last year's national championships in Pretoria. Picture: Veli Nhlapo

If anyone wanted to assess the state of local athletics, they only had to look at the competitors organisers rolled out in Cape Town on Wednesday before the SA championships from Thursday to Saturday. 

Sprinter Viwe Jingqi sat at the main table with veterans such as Akani Simbine and Wenda Nel and she was unable to douse the fire of competition that burns within her. 

The 17-year-old, who broke the long-standing SA 100m under-20 record and the 200m under-18 mark last month, still has a long way to go. 

Her coach, Paul Gorries, insists she has come to gain experience, and Jingqi herself said she was looking to have fun. 

“I want to have fun against the seniors,” she said. But thats when her fighting spirit took control. “I want to make history ... I want to scare them even more and show them I’m coming.”

History has shown that under-18 athletes do not always convert when they come of age, a sobering thought that Gorries himself is familiar with personally. 

“The team around her will be key,” he said. 

But the thing with Jingqi is that she goes into the national championships at Green Point Stadium as favourite with her 11.22sec from Potchefstroom. Second is Phindile Kubheka (11.37) followed by Carina Horn (11.43), who is still looking for her form after a two-year doping ban.

Gorries said Jingqe might compete in the 200m, pointing out that after this weekend she has no major meets until the world junior championships in Cali, Colombia, in early August. 

Nel is searching for her 10th national 400m hurdles crown, but can expect fierce challenges from Zeney van der Walt and Taylon Bieldt.

“My goal is just to try enjoy my last national champs. Im going to run my heart out for the world champs qualifier and show the youngsters I still have a little more in me. I want to have fun and do my best and well see how the season rolls out,” she said. 

Simbine, who has ruled the men’s 100m in SA since 2015, is looking to keep his position. “It’s a long season and I’m doing things differently this year. We need to make sure I’m still dominant here before I get to Europe and dominate there.”

He should be favourite when they line up for the men’s 100m on Thursday, with his rivals, including youngster Benjamin Richardson and another veteran Henricho Bruintjies, the second SA sprinter to break 10sec. 

Luxolo Adams is confident before the 200m, where he is scheduled to go up against defending champion Wayde van Niekerk and Clarence Munyai. “I’m going to bring my A game,” he warned. 

The notable absentee from the main table on Wednesday was Van Niekerk himself, who has been training in the US for the better part of the year. It could be safe to say he will not line up for the 100m heats on Thursday.

Organisers will be hoping he does not succumb to a niggle, as has become a frequent occurrence since returning from his serious knee injury in 2017.

Another US-based athlete was at the conference, Dominique Scott, who will go up against Caster Semenya in an interesting 5,000m. 

Scott has clocked the 15min 10.00sec qualifying time for world championships in this distance, while Semenya has yet to achieve that mark. 

And Scott has no intention of assisting Semenya. “The 5,000m will not be my focus this year, so this is a little speed test for me, but I’m not too concerned about fast times,” said Scott, who is focusing on the 10,000m for the world championships in Eugene, Oregon, in July. 

“I’m more concerned about trying to win the national title. I’m excited to be here and looking forward to competing against a good field of athletes.

“It could be a fast race. There are good athletes in the mid-15 minute range, so if the other girls want to take it out fast, we can make it a fast race. I already have the qualifying standard for the world championships, and Caster doesn’t, but if she goes out hard from the gun, I'll be ready.”

For a long time the likes of Semenya, Van Niekerk, Simbine and Horn have been at the forefront of the sport in SA, but there are new faces looking to shake up the pecking order. 

Will this be their year?

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