CAPE TOWN - The indefinite postponement of the African Athletics Championships has dealt a hammer blow to athletes who have been deprived of a last-ditch attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
The fate of the continental championships remains unclear after the Algerian government postponed the event without offering new dates.
This disconcerting news comes at a time when the June 29 Olympics qualifying deadline looms large. Many African athletes saw this event as a final chance to qualify.
The Confederation of African Athletics is also in the dark. They will be waiting on the Algerian Ministry of Youth and Sports, who will decide on a new date as soon as they feel the health situation has improved in the host country.
The saga has proved a nightmare for Athletics South Africa (ASA) sprint coach Paul Gorries who has started looking for opportunities for athletes to compete ahead of the start of the global showpiece, which begins on July 23.
His concerns are two-fold. He needs events that will offer Olympic warm-up opportunities and some athletes, who are nearing their season's peak, need a chance to qualify.
“Now that the African Champs are postponed we are looking at Diamond League events,” said Gorries. “We’re also looking to see which events will host relays.”
Gorries also doubles up as ASA's relay coach and after the recent World Athletics Relays in Poland, the 4x100m team are gold medal prospects.
The team that won in Poland may not necessarily be the same as the one that will eventually be named for Tokyo.
“The door is open for anyone to make the final team to Tokyo,” said Gorries. “We have athletes like Phatu Maswanganya who have been running well.
“There is Luxolo Adams who has returned from injury, and Chederick van Wyk been hitting form lately.”
There will be six in the 4x100m squad. It is not certain who the six will be, but Gift Leotlela and Akani Simbine have selected themselves. They have already attained 100m qualifying times.
“It is wonderful that Gift is back from injury and fully fit. He has always been a great talent,” said Gorries.
“Adams is in the frame after he ran wind-assisted times of 10.07 and 10.08 earlier on. If he did not suffer an injury, he would have clocked sub-10 by now.
“Maswanganya has shown his class in the USA. Thando Dlolo has a PB of 10.08, and in due time both will break the sub-10 barrier.
“These sprinters can also lay claim to a third South African 100m slot behind Gift and Akani.”
At this stage, Gorries is likely to meet the sprinters at a training camp in July, possibly in Italy.
“We have until June 29 to give everyone a final opportunity to qualify,” said Gorries. “The team will be announced afterwards and will assemble for the training camp in July.
“In the interim, we will announce the 4x100m and 4x400m preparation squads soon.”