'We've kept our word and selected every single athlete' - ASA confident ahead of World Champs
Of all the 17 athletes that have ever won an individual medal for South Africa at a World Championships, only four have ever achieved the feat at the first attempt. As the country took it's nascent steps into the pantheon of international sport after decades of isolation, Llwellyn Herbert claimed the country's first ever World Championships medal at Athens 1997 when he took the silver medal in the 400m hurdles, followed by a gold medal for 21-year-old Marius Corbett in the javelin a day later. Twelve years after the magic of Athens, Caster Semenya announced herself to the world by winning her first world title in Berlin and then in 2017 Luvo Manyoga followed up his Olympic silver medal with gold in the long jump at London 2017.
That those four great athletes out of seventeen are the only ones who managed to win a medal at their first World Championships is an important statistic. One that informed Athletics South Africa's thinking when they selected the team that departed for Hungary last night. ASA Board Member and Team leader Jean Verster, who is himself a former top runner, says they have done away with the thinking that only medal hopefuls deserve a spot in the team and chosen every single athlete that qualified.
"There was a thinking before of only selecting people that can automatically win medals, but I'm sorry there are very few athletes in the world that can go to their first championships and win a medal," he told #TheTopRunner. "So we've kept our word so far and selected every single athlete that qualified according to World Athletics. The team of 36 is out here and they qualified and they all deserve it because they did it on merit. They are all fit and we are expecting a lot in terms of progression."
Verster's words, especially for those who tout outcomes over process will be dismissed as mediocrity particularly in light of the fact that Team SA failed to win a single medal at both Oregon 2022 and Doha 2019. But with 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk finding his best form again, Akani Simbine winning Diamond League races and the likes of Zeney van der Walt, Prudence Sekgodišo and Melikhaya Frans in good form at what will be their second World Championships, Verster is confident of a better showing.
"As a whole programme you have to look at the consistent improvement. Take a guy like Johan Cronje back in 2013 when he won that bronze medal in the 1500m - that was his seventh championship. So that's why we are very passionate about selecting every single athlete, but they've gotta go there with a goal and then progress. Once you get into a final like Luxolo Adams for instance that was a stepping stone to this year. I think we are a lot better conditioned this year with out season because SA Champs was earlier. Hopefully this will be a stepping stone for next year."
The World Championships take place from 19-27 August in the Hungarian city of Budapest. catch all the action live on SuperSport Variety 3 (SS Channel 208).