TIME RUNNING OUT FOR OLYMPIC RELAY HOPEFULS

 
Updated: May 9, 2016

An international relay meeting will be held in Polokwane on May 24, Athletics SA has confirmed, with time running out for national squads to book their places at the Olympics.
The first three meetings in the inaugural ASA Night Series, held in Pretoria, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, had focussed on providing opportunities for individual athletes to qualify for major championships this season, including the African Senior Championships in Durban next month, the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz in July and the Rio Games in August.
The Polokwane event, however, was specifically included in the local schedule to give relay hopefuls a chance of achieving required standards for major events.
Other African nations had also been invited to take part, ASA revealed on Monday, with at least two visiting teams required in each event in order to meet international criteria for selection to the multi-sport Games.
“With a number of potential relay squads displaying promise over the last couple of seasons, all efforts around the Polokwane meeting will be directed towards ensuring that quality relay races are held with elite line-ups, in order to make it possible for the athletes to run fast times,” said ASA president Aleck Skhosana.
With just two months remaining before the qualifying window was due to close, on July 11, not one national relay team was in contention for participation at the Olympics.
A 4x400m squad was invited to participate at the opening Diamond League meeting of the season in Doha last week, but their maiden bid for a spot at the Games was halted after Thapelo Phora picked up a hamstring injury on the second leg.
While ASA was attempting to put various teams together for the Polokwane meeting, in order to boost their chances, relay athletes needed further opportunities to clock two required times for one of the eight remaining places available in Rio in each event, which would be based on aggregate rankings.
The national men’s 4x100m relay squad, which could potentially include at least two sub-10 second sprinters (Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies) were considered outside hopes for a medal in Rio, along with a 4x400m team possibly spearheaded by world champion Wayde van Niekerk, but the nation remained stranded well down the rankings in both events.
There were also concerns about relay athletes having little or no chance to practice as a unit in the build-up to the Games (final teams are not restricted to athletes involved in qualifying races) which increased the margin for error at changeovers, even if they were to book their place at the multi-sport showpiece.
Skhosana, however, was confident they had time to prepare.
“We have plans in place to give relay squads further international experience and opportunities, but we call on all athletes to make use of this local relay meeting,” he said.
“We believe our relay teams can spring a few surprises in Bydgoszcz and Rio, and we want to ensure they are well prepared if they are selected to represent the nation.”
The ASA Night Series meeting would include 4x100m and 4x400m races for men and women in the senior and junior divisions.
The programme would also include a junior mixed relay, a senior women’s 4x800m race and a senior men’s 4x1500m contest.
The two-hour meeting, due to start at 6.30pm, was set to bring a close to the domestic track and field season.