AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
JOHANNESBURG: Former world 800-metre champion Caster Semenya hopes to secure a place this weekend in the South Africa team for the 2012 London Olympics.
The 21-year-old medal prospect competes in the two-day national championships at Nelson Mandela University in Indian Ocean city Port Elizabeth with other Olympic hopefuls. South African Olympic officials — mindful of claims that past Games teams contained no-hopers — have insisted athletes reach qualifying times at least twice before being selected for the quadrennial multi-sport showcase.
Semenya bettered the one minute 59.90 second qualifying time last year in South Korea when finishing second behind Russian Mariya Savinova in her world title defence and must do so again to seal a first Games appearance. She changed coaches last year, replacing Michael Seme with former Olympic 800-metre gold medalist Maria Mutola from neighbouring Mozambique, and the pair have targeted a sub-two-minute run this weekend.
“We are looking for anything under two minutes this weekend,” stressed the Mozambican who struck gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and represented her country at football before teaming up with Semenya. “If we go to Europe with anything under two minutes it would be a good thing — but two something could be a problem confidence wise,” the 39-year-old coach said.
Semenya backed her handler: “I am capable of running below two minutes so I will try to reach that goal on Saturday provided the weather is good,” she said of the venue in the ‘Windy City’. “Maria has been really good for me. She has not changed much in my training programme, but is concentrating more on my race tactics and some technique work.”
The South African runner endured a difficult three years after her 2009 world title in Berlin, undergoing gender tests that sidelined her for 11 months and being hampered by a back injury. Semenya, 400-metre hurdler LJ van Zyl, women’s javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen and a 4x400-metre relay team including Van Zyl and double-amputee Oscar Pistorius are considered the best South African athletics medal prospects.
Van Zyl is the only athlete who has clinched a place in the London-bound team and Pistorius needs one more sub-45.30 second race to book a place as a 400-metre runner.