no rest for SA athletes

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

While most people spent quality time with their families and loved ones over the festive season, manylocal athletes did not have that opportunity as they were training for the 2009 season.

And the new year looks set to be a hectic one for them as they will compete in highly challenging events locally and abroad.

Athletics South Africa is aware of the challenges that athletes will face this year, and the national controlling body has promised to redouble its effort to prepare their members adequately for the coming competitions.

ASA's mission to employ a full-time coach from Kenya to work on their middle- and long-distance events also continues in earnest.

Leonard Chuene, ASA's president, told Sowetan at the weekend they will also intensify their schools development programme this year.

"We have already started negotiations with countries like Jamaica to assist us to augment our schools sport programme. We could not have asked for a better country than Jamaica to help us in our mission," Chuene said.

"Jamaica is succeeding in athletics because of their strong development programme in schools.

"We will also want to study the module of the United States who are also doing well in athletics. The US's success in athletics is based in colleges and we should beef up our athletics at tertiary level."

Chuene added: "We will fully back our athletes in their pursuit for glory at international competitions this year and in the future. We are starting now to prepare for the 2012 London Olympic Games."

ASA was the only local sports body that produced a medallist at the Beijing Olympics in August.

Khotso "Crocodile" Mokoena won silver in the long jump .

Mokoena said his mission for 2009 is to return to the triple jump to add to his medal prospects inLondon.

"I have forgotten about my success in Beijing and I'm preparing for the London Olympics," he told Sowetan in a recent interview.

The support he received from ASA, Absa and other stakeholders has inspired him to do well at the international events.

Most of the athletes who succeeded at the Beijing Paralympics will also knuckle down to serious business in their quest to qualify for the Paralympic Games in London. These include swimming icon Natalie du Toit, who won five gold medals in Beijing in September.

Double amputee Oscar Pistorius, widely known as the "Blade Runner", who also shone in Beijing, has also vowed to work tirelessly to ensure South Africa's continued success at the Paralympics.

The start of ASA's 2009 programme will be marked by the Nedbank Matha and Yellow Pages series this month.

The Matha event, which covers a distance of 21,1km, takes place in Tshwane on January 17, while the first leg of the Yellow Pages Series is billed for Potchefstroom six days later.

There are six legs of the popular Matha series in different provinces this year, with the final in Polokwane on October 3.

Tshwane will host the second leg of the Yellow Pages series on January 30. Durban hosts the third leg of the event on February 6 and the national championships two days later.

KwaZulu-Natal will also host the provincial senior track and field championships on February 14. After that the focus will shift to Port Elizabeth and Stellenbosch where the fourth and fifth legs of the Yellow Pages series will take place on February 20 and 27.

The month's programme will wrap up with the provincial junior track and field championships in all provinces on February 28. International competitions start in March.

South African athletes will compete in the Southern Region Cross Country Championships in Mauritius on March 1, and the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships are billed for Amman, Jordan, on March 28.

ASA will also send athletes to Zimbabwe for the Permit Meet on April 11, and the Southern Region Senior Track and Field Champs in Botswana on May 30.

The youngsters will then jet off to Italy for the 6th IAAF World Youth Champs on July 8 and 12.

The World Senior Championships take place in Berlin, Germany, from August 15 to 23.

The senior athletes will be going all out to make the country proud at the 16th IAAF World Half Marathon in Birmingham on August 11. The ASA programme for this year will wrap up with the Nedbank Soweto Marathon on November 1.

South Africa will also be in the spotlight when ASA once again stages the internationally known Comrades Marathon, Two Oceans and City to City events this year.

Chuene bemoaned the fact that local companies spend huge amounts to lure foreign athletes to race for them.

"Our companies are investing big money in foreign athletes, that is why you will see a Russian running under the colours of a certain local company.

"I've been against this because these companies are based in South Africa and their products are bought by the same athletes they are shunning in terms of sponsorship. I think it makes sense to support local athletes to be world beaters."

ASA has vowed to assist their athletes to prepare well to stop the dominance of foreigners in local races.

Chuene and his staff at ASA wished their athletes a prosperous new year.

"We hope that they will able to rise to the occasion to make South Africa proud in future events," he said.