Updated: April 14, 2016

The lead protagonists in South Africa’s ongoing sprint revolution are expected to spearhead the charge over the next couple of days, as they prepare to burn up the Coetzenburg track at the SA Senior Championships in Stellenbosch on Friday and Saturday.
With world 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk set to focus on his specialist event, despite flaunting his versatility with a sub-10 second performance in the 100m dash earlier this season, the Tuks-HPC brigade from Pretoria are expected to dominate the men’s and women’s shorter sprints.
National 100m record holder Akani Simbine, who clocked 9.96 in Pretoria last month, and training partner Henricho Bruintjies will line up as favourites in the blue ribbon track event.
They might not have it all their own way, however, with the likes of SA Under-23 champion Thando Roto and fellow Tuks speedster Gift Leotlela, who recently won the national junior title in 10.21, aiming to produce an upset.
“Sprinting can be very unpredictable. Who knows, if the athletes fire on all ‘cylinders’ and the weather plays along it might be a magical race,” said Werner Prinsloo, who coaches Simbine and Bruintjies.
With Van Niekerk and Simbine focussing on other events, and US-based Anaso Jobodwana due to give the national championships a miss this season, junior athletes should lead the way in the 200m sprint.
Teenagers Clarence Munyai, who has already qualified for the Rio Games, and Kyle Appel, the silver medallist at last year’s World Youth Championships, will line up among the favourites for the half-lap title.
In the women’s 100m sprint, a titanic duel is expected between Carina Horn, who shares the SA record of 11.06 with Evette de Klerk, and resurgent speedster Alyssa Conley, who has twice qualified for the Olympics after making a comeback from injury this season.
Horn, the defending champion, said this week she hoped to improve on her 11.23 season’s best, with Conley and Tebogo Mamathu geared up to push her to the line, though she did not believe she was ready to target a new national mark at this stage of the campaign.
“I have set myself a goal, time-wise, of how fast I would like to run, but somehow I don’t think it is going to happen in Stellenbosch,” Horn said.
“However, if the weather is ok and my legs are feeling fine, who knows what can happen.”
World Student Games 400m champion Justine Palframan enters the championships as the women’s favourite for the longer sprints.
In middle-distance events, there will be plenty of attention directed towards US-based athlete Dominique Scott.
A student at the University of Arkansas, the versatile runner will make a rare appearance on home soil when she turns out in the women’s 1 500m event.
Scott had hoped to focus on her collegiate commitments in her final semester with the Arkansas Razorbacks, but she was made to return “home” to meet Athletics South Africa’s requirements for Olympic selection.
“I am so excited to come to Stellenbosch and show the selectors what I am worth, and to run in my home town again,” said Scott, who is ranked among the top 10 women in the all-time SA rankings over 1 500m (4:08.65), 5 000m (15:25.10) and 10 000m (32:11.60).
“I do hope that they understand my situation and my commitment to Team SA and will put me on the Olympic team once I’ve run a standard later this season.”
Marathon runner Irvette van Zyl, in the form of her life, could also turn some heads in the women’s 5 000m race.
On the men’s side, former World Championships bronze medalliat Johan Cronje will turn out in defence of his SA 1 500m title, Elroy Gelant will be the firm favourite for the 5 000m crown, and multiple national record holder Stephen Mokoka headlines the 10 000m final.
Meanwhile, one of the most anticipated events of the championships will see former training partners LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks, who is now based in England, square off in the men’s 400m hurdles.
World Championships finalist Wenda Nel should not have much trouble defending her SA title in the women’s one-lap race over the barriers, with her strongest challenge expected to come from Youth Olympic Games champion Gezelle Magerman.
Another athlete who has shown solid early season form, Antonio Alkana, will spearhead the men’s 110m hurdles event.
In field events, a hard-fought battle is on the cards in the men’s long jump, which has proved to be one of the country’s strongest disciplines in the build-up to the Olympics.
With Zarck Visser, Ruswahl Samaai, Khotso Mokoena, Luvo Manyonga and Dylon Cotter all having achieved the required standard for the Games, a battle for supremacy will be waged in the sand pit at Coetzenburg.
Double global championships bronze medallist Sunette Viljoen will be eager to shake off a rusty start to the 2016 campaign by approaching her best form in the women’s javelin throw.
Excitement is also building ahead of the men’s and women’s race walks, with national record holders Lebogang Shange and Anel Oosthuizen due to compete in the 20km races.
Though Oosthuizen should have it all her own way, Shange could face a challenge from Wayne Snyman, who displayed superb form earlier this year when he achieved the qualifying standard for the Rio Games.
The two-day annual championships gets underway at 9am on Friday, and tickets are available to spectators at R50 a day.