Twenty-five of South Africa’s youth athletes are currently listed in the top-10 across 16 events in the latest world youth lists published by the IAAF, and based on current performances there seems real prospects that the green and gold colours could grace the podium.
The aim will be to improve on the two gold, two silver and one bronze medal haul from Lille in 2011. On that occasion the boys’ Javelin proved to be the biggest success for South Africa as Reinhard van Zyl won gold and Morne Moolman took silver.
The Javelin should again be well represented by South Africa in Donetsk as thrower Jo-Ane van Dyk tops the 2013 world youth lists with her 55.15m. Van Dyk’s distance is more than two metres better than second-ranked Meng Wang from China, and on paper would have earned her gold in the African Youth Championships by a massive 11-metre margin.
Helene Swanepoel is another athlete who currently leads the world youth lists with her 59.57 in the 400m Hurdles. In addition to her hurdling status, Swanepoel is also ranked fifth in the 400m flat behind a trio of Jamaicans and Regina Tavera of Mexico.
This duo is backed up with six boys and seven girls ranked in the top five in their event, while five South African boys, led by Hanno Coetzer (52.51), dominate the top 10 in the 400m Hurdles.
The majority of the performances were recorded at the national youth championships in Pretoria at the beginning of April. A number of athletes went on to excel one week later in the SA Senior championships in Stellenbosch, prompting a leading journalist to comment.
Never before in the history of South African athletics have so many competitors in the youth, junior, and under-23 age groups left their mark in such large numbers at the annual senior National Championships.
On the face of it, this would appear to highlight the strength of those athletes coming up through the ranks, but it may also indicate of the lack of depth among the seniors. The Southern Region Youth Championships, which are scheduled for May, will be a better indicator of progression.
It is generally accepted that elite performance at the youth and junior level is not a pre-requisite, or even an indication, of excellence at senior level.
Competitions are not won on paper, and the athletes are overly aware that Europe and the northern hemisphere athletics season is just coming to the boil by the end of April. For any southern hemisphere country, rankings now are not what you get by the time of the World Youth Championships.
The loss of the traditional six Yellow Pages permit meetings has left a large hole in the preparation, prize-reward and promotion of elite athletes in the sport in South Africa. It has been argued that this may well impact on the country’s international performance.
That may be true on a senior level but ironically that loss has reincarnated the buzz around local permit meetings and the Varsity Athletics Challenge, which many people believe is the true breeding ground and evolutionary home for future champions.
Without funding for substantial appearance fees and prize money, more lanes open up for the up-and-coming athletes, who it is felt can boost the overall depth among the key age groups.
This may prove an important step for the future growth of athletics in South Africa, as most senior athletes have inevitably had to rely on the European circuit both for their bread and butter, and the required world qualification marks.
Therefore the contradictions of a ‘double peak’ each season, which have confounded coaches and athletes for years, may inadvertently have been answered. The challenge is that these meetings don't, at present, have the resources to reach all universities and provinces. But out of adversity comes opportunity, and these current events may provide South Africa’s youth athletes with their best preparations in years.
Norrie Williamson for the IAAF