SA medal hopefuls competing in Rome
Four of South Africa's Olympic medal prospects will line up at the Rome Diamond League meeting at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday.
Caster Semenya, LJ van Zyl, Sunette Viljoen and Khotso Mokoena will be tested as they take on some of the world's leading athletes in their respective events.
Semenya faces women's 800m world champion Mariya Savinova of Russia and Olympic gold medallist Pamela Jelimo of Kenya.
The trio are among the fastest women of all time and the race could be a preview of the Olympic final in little over two months.
An intense battle is also expected in the men's 400m hurdles event, with all three medallists form last year's World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, toeing the line in Rome.
National one-lap hurdles record holder Van Zyl will hope to make up for a pedestrian performance at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting a fortnight ago.
Travelling hitches, however, had contributed to his fifth-place finish in 50.38 seconds, and he looked forward to meeting world champion David Greene of Great Britain and global silver medallist Javier Culson of Puerto Rico.
“Almost all of the World Championships finalists will be in action and also the strongest competition that we'll have at the Olympic Games,” Van Zyl said.
“I would like to run a good race, which is something I haven't done yet this season. It will be important ahead of the Games. I won this meeting last year in a time of 47.91, so I have good memories of Rome.”
South African champion Cornel Fredericks will line up alongside his countryman.
Van Zyl will also join Ofentse Mogawane, Willie de Beer, Shaun de Jager and Lebogang Moeng in the 4x400m relay event.
Meanwhile, national sprint sensation Simon Magakwe gets another chance to impress in the 100 metres when he takes on Jamaican world record holder Usain Bolt and European champion Christophe Lemaitre.
Magakwe, who has set his sights on breaking the SA record of 10.06 seconds in the short sprint, false started at last week's Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Sunette Viljoen will once again go up against the leading women's javelin throwers in the world, while South Africa's only medallist from the 2008 Beijing Games, Khotso Mokoena, and national 3 000m steeplechase record holder Ruben Ramolefi will attempt to reach their second Olympic qualifying performances.
Elsewhere on Thursday, distance runners Johan Cronje and Juan van Deventer will both be chasing Olympic qualifying times in the 1 500m at the Meeting de Marseille.
Cronje recorded his first qualifying time in the men's 1500m race in Dessau, Germany, on Friday, clocking three minutes, 35.33 seconds (3:35.33) to dip under the required 3:35.50 mark.
He will need to reproduce that performance before the deadline closes at the end of June.
Van Deventer narrowly missed the Olympic qualifying mark by 0.05 seconds in Hengelo last week and will hope to break through the barrier for the first time.
Long jump prospect Zarck Visser will also compete in Marseille in an attempt to reach the qualifying distance of 8.20m for the first time.