After being postponed last year, the Tokyo Olympic Games is going ahead in July, under the cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic. Locals in Japan are wary and athletes are anxious – but for the rest of us, this the event we need to lift our spirits after a dreadful year. One team that will be followed with bated breath is the 4 x 100 metre relay team. SA sprinters Gift Leotela, Thando Dlodlo, Clarence Munyai and Akani Simbine – all from the Tuks Athletics Club – managed to clinch a gold medal at the World Athletics Relay Championship in May. BizNews caught up with team coach Paul Gorries, to find out how they are preparing and ask him what he thinks the team’s chances are. He also reveals what one of our biggest hopes for medals in the Olympics, superstar Wayde van Niekerk, has been up to. – Linda van Tilburg
On the World Athletics Relay Championship win:
I was happy. It’s a project that started in 2015/2016 that is finally starting to pay off. We still made a lot of mistakes, though – the first exchange wasn’t as perfect. On the [baton] exchanges we still have a lot of work [to do] Going into Tokyo, if our exchanges are like that, we might come up short.
On preparations for Tokyo:
Most of the guys in the relay squad are on their own at the moment, some with their personal coaches. I have one athlete – my own personal athlete – that was in the squad, Thando Dlodlo. At this point in time, we’re focusing on getting the 100 metre time down [and] hopefully trying to qualify for the games by the 29th. On a daily basis see the likes of Akani and Clarence as well. At this point in time, everyone is just focusing on their own event – but by improving in their own event, it helps a lot with the relay. From the 12th until the 22nd of July, we will have a training camp and the final team will probably be announced around the beginning of July.
On the mental and physical preparations athletes go through:
For me, it comes quite easy. I was an athlete myself. I know how most of these guys think, what they want and what they need. For me, I’m more of a supporting structure. It’s all onto the athletes. I can just give them the tools – it’s what they do with the tools on race day.
On the chances of SA winning a medal:
Our chances are pretty good. It all depends on the day. If I look at 2019 – and I don’t like to make predictions – [but] after the semifinal, we definitely thought we were going to [get a] medal. We ran a really good semifinal and we did beat the likes of Japan and China and Brazil – all of them. In the final, we made a mistake. That mistake cost us, because at the time we made a mistake, we were in second position.
So if we got that exchange right, we definitely could have received a medal in 2019. The athletes know and I know what we want to do – we all want a medal – but we’re rather just focusing on getting those exchanges and the combinations right. If we do that right, I’m sure it will pay off in Tokyo.