Khotso, LJ can rule worlds

THOUGH two injured sprinters in the South African athletics team have been sent home, their absence won't affect the nation's medal hopes at the world athletics championships in Berlin.

THOUGH two injured sprinters in the South African athletics team have been sent home, their absence won't affect the nation's medal hopes at the world athletics championships in Berlin.

Kagisho Kumbane is battling to recover from a pinched nerve in his lower back, and Tshegofatso Meshoe is struggling with a hamstring injury. The two were sent home on the eve of tomorrow's opening ceremony, but South Africa's chances of winning a medal remain better than they've been in years.

The last time the nation was on the medals table was in Paris in 2003 but the team, reduced to 29 athletes, has a handful of realistic medal chances in Berlin.

Their brightest hope, unsurprisingly, lies with South Africa's only medallist from the Beijing Olympics, long jumper Khotso Mokoena. The 24-year-old has been one of the most consistent jumpers in the world this year and improved his national record by 11cm with an 8,50m leap in Madrid six weeks ago.

Ranked third in the world, Mokoena's biggest challenges will come from former Olympic champion Dwight Phillips of the US and Panama's reigning Olympic champion Irving Saladino. But Mokoena is in the form of his life and with his big-match temperament, the South African is a huge favourite for a podium place.

But 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl provides the team with their best chance for gold - if he comes off. Van Zyl has a tendency to be inconsistent. But he is finally reaching the sort of potential he promised as a youngster and is ranked first in the world this year.

On the women's side, Sunette Viljoen is in the great form and ranked fifth in the world in the javelin with a national record of 65,43m. Teenage sensation Caster Semenya stunned the world with her 1:56,72 victory at the African Junior Championships in Mauritius two weeks ago, but the top-ranked 800m runner won't line up as favourite. - Sapa

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