Rules ruin Olympic dream
Sprinter Simon Magakwe ran into great form early this season. Now he's run into a brick wall.
The fastest man in South African history, having equalled the 10.06sec national record, impressed enough to earn invitations to top-notch European meets, lining up against Usain Bolt three times in May and June.
Magakwe ran six qualifying times in the 100m and two more in the 200m, but the recently crowned African 100m champion was not considered good enough to represent South Africa at the 2012 London Games.
The sad case of his omission proves one thing - that South Africa's Olympic numbers just don't add up.
Of Team SA's 125 competitors for the London Games, 18 are swimmers.
Track and field athletes - excluding the six marathon runners and one walker - total a paltry 13.
How on earth do we end up with more swimmers than athletes in sunny South Africa - where far more people are able to run, skip and jump than can swim?
Even if you add in the marathon runners and walker to push the squad to 20, you must throw in the two open-water swimmers.
At best it's a dead heat.
But that remains an anomaly because the Olympics are designed to accommodate more athletes than swimmers. Countries are allowed up to three athletes for each individual track and field competition, but only two for each individual swimming race.
Swimming at the Games offers a maximum 76 spots to each nation.
Track and field, excluding the marathon and walking events, offers up to 130 berths per country.
Put another way, Olympic swimmers make up 58% of Olympic athletes at the Games, but in Team SA it's a staggering 138%.
Even the medals South Africa won at the respective world championships last year don't reflect this anomaly - the athletes won four and the swimmers one.
One obvious reason for this is: the tough qualifying criteria agreed on between South Africa's Olympic body, Sascoc, and Athletics SA.
The world governing body requires athletes to achieve one stipulated A-qualifying time to secure automatic selection (as long as they are among their nation's top three). But Sascoc, pushing up the qualifying standards for London 2012 after the dismal return of one medal in 2008 (it is targeting 12 medals at these Olympics), decided with Athletics SA that athletes must achieve two qualifying times.
And one of those times had to come at an international meet.
In fairness, swimming's criteria were essentially identical.
Of the 18 swimmers, 13 achieved the standards (the rest were picked for relays).
Of the 13 athletes, only eight managed it.
Sascoc's tougher standards were applied to most codes, and they appear to have produced some positive spin-offs, strengthening the men's and women's hockey teams.
But that's scant consolation to the seven athletes who were left stranded just one qualifying attempt short of a London ticket.
Magakwe was undoubtedly the biggest loser of them all.
Last week, he became the first South African man to win the African 100m championship; observers there reckon he might have done a qualifying time had it not been for difficult conditions in Benin, which included poor weather and uncomfortable travelling to the stadium every day.
Magakwe's only crime was not being able to get an international qualifying time.
Athletics SA asked Sascoc to waive the qualifying rules for Magakwe and 1500m runner Johan Cronje, but without success.
Cronje has been in good form, but to date he had run only one qualifying time.
Magakwe did eight in all this season and Sascoc still ruled against him.
The Olympic body is taking Banyana Banyana, who qualified for London through an African tournament - one of the few sports where continental qualification was permitted by Sascoc.
Admittedly, our women footballers did brilliantly to make it to London, but it remains to be seen whether they will make the grade.
Banyana are ranked 61st in the world. Their group opponents are all in the top 10 - Sweden (4th), Canada (7th) and Japan (3rd).
Magakwe is ranked 29th in the world. Thirteen of the men faster than him are American and nine are Jamaican.
Subtract 16 (because only three from those two countries can go) and Magakwe's ranking for the Games would effectively have been 13th.
On paper he would have been in with a shout of making the final; Magakwe has threatened to become the first South African to break the 10-second barrier this season.
Maybe he would have done it in London; we'll never know now.
It's unlikely that Sascoc was malicious in omitting Magakwe, 26, and his comrades. But its move smacks of short-sightedness.
It remains to be seen how the omission will affect the motivation of Magakwe and company.
Perhaps Sascoc was thinking of 12 medals for 2012; but was it thinking of the 2016 Rio Olympics at all?