Strong field set for season opener
Athletics Central North West has assembled a strong field for the first of three permit meetings, which will kick off the South African track and field season, in Potchefstroom on Tuesday.
The men's 400 metres race should provide the highlight of the meeting, with Botswana's middle-distance sensation, Nijel Amos, taking on a host of top-class South African athletes specialising in disciplines ranging from the 400m hurdles to the 800m.
Amos, the men's 800m silver medallist at the London Olympics, will line up against South African 400m hurdles ace LJ van Zyl, who is an accomplished performer in the flat sprint, as well as the country's top athlete over the two-lap distance, Olympian Andre Olivier.
Rising 400m stars Jacques de Swardt and Ruan Greyling, and one-lap hurdler PC Beneke will also be in the race.
Amos finished second behind world record holder David Rudisha of Kenya in the fastest two-lap race of all time in London last year.
At only 18 years old, he crossed the line in a world junior record of one minute, 41.73 seconds (1:41.73).
South African indoor 3 000m record holder Elroy Gelant will run in both the 1 500m and 3 000m races, and will hope to continue the fine form which saw him clinch the national 10 000m and cross-country titles last season.
Gelant came close to breaking Juan van Deventer's SA record in the outdoor 3 000m event last year when he clocked seven minutes, 41.38 seconds (7:41.38) at the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava. He was a mere 0.32 seconds off Van Deventer's national best of 7:41.06 set in 2008.
The men's 100m race in Potchefstroom will see the country's latest sprint sensation, 19-year-old Akani Simbine, testing his mettle against senior athletes.
Simbine set a new SA junior 100m record of 10.19 seconds at the Zone 6 event in Lusaka, Zambia, in December, smashing the previous record of 10.30 set by Wilhelm van der Vijver in Pretoria in 2008.
Simbine will line-up against another rising sprint star, Gideon Trotter, who last year clocked a season's best of 10.29 seconds.
Home-town hero Shaun Bownes, 42, will hope to show that age is merely a number as he takes to the track in the 110m hurdles race.
The former Commonwealth Games gold medallist saw his SA record smashed by London Olympian Lehann Fourie at a Diamond League meeting in Belgium in September.
Fourie, who also reached the Olympic final, shaved 0.02 seconds off Bownes' previous mark of 13.26.
In the field events, all eyes will be on the women's high jump where 16-year-old Julia du Plessis is the favourite to take the spoils.
Last year she was perhaps the most consistent high jumper in the country, posting the second best height of the season when she won the SA Junior, Youth and Schools Championships with a best of 1.88 metres.