Swimmers start final prep
SOUTH Africa's Olympic swimming hopes, spearheaded by Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos, last night flew to Europe, where they will train and compete until the Games gala kicks off in London on July 28.
The swimmers, who were thrown a farewell bash attended by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula on Monday night, yesterday trained at Johannesburg's Mandeville club, a top venue for disabled athletes, before heading to OR Tambo airport.
After racing in Europe for several weeks, they will head to Monaco as guests of South Africa's 2000 Olympic backstroke competitor, Princess Charlene Woodstock.
There they will be joined by their US-based teammates, such as Roland Schoeman and Darian Townsend.
The team to compete in London is to be named only next week by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, but the indications are that a contingent of 16 swimmers will be included in a South African team that already stands at 103, bolstered by Banyana Banyana and the men's and women's hockey teams.
Sascoc introduced tougher qualifying criteria for this year to avoid a repeat of Beijing, where South Africa had its biggest team ever, of more than 130 athletes, but returned with just one medal.
If 16 swimmers are selected then the men's 4x200m freestyle relay team will do battle in London. On their day the foursome could challenge for a podium finish, but they looked in danger of being omitted at the National Championships where only Le Clos achieved a qualifying time in the 200m freestyle.
Le Clos is scheduled to contest the 200m butterfly - his strongest individual event - on the same day as that relay in London.
Van der Burgh wants to race the 100m breaststroke in 60 seconds next month, hit 59s in early July and then hopefully crack a gold-winning 58s at the Games.
While the swimmers are quietly confident of claiming medals in London, there is growing concern over the lack of form of their track and field counterparts.
Even Caster Semenya is off the pace, although she is still rated South Africa's top medal chance in athletics.
On Monday night, Hannes Dreyer won the 100m at a small meet in Germany, clocking a modest 10.34s.
Ofentse Mogawane, a member of the 4x400m team that bagged silver at the World Championships last year, was the fastest in the 400m, although his 45.80s was half-a-second outside the qualifying time.
Mapaseka Makhanya, an 800m specialist, won the women's 1500m in 4:12.01, some six seconds outside the qualifying mark.