The London Diamond League is indication we may be overplaying our hand in our medal expectations:

The world championships are 26 days away and will be held in the London 2012 stadium, an excellent facility, with the best of the best going for Gold silver and bronze medals.

To a large extent it about win or zero:
Win a medal then you are rewarded with prize money, possibly a national bonus, media exposure that can bring more endorsements, and greater earning potential.
For finalists the rewards are less, but recognition can assist the career.
But to a large degree the ‘fall off’ in rewards is pretty dramatic for those who fail to make the final 8.

This year South African athletes have built on an excellent base from 2015 and 2016 and have actually dominated the world in a number of events with world leading times and top rankings that have taken a number of names into world-wide exposure.

Not surprisingly, and correctly, local media has jumped on these opportunities to expose the sport and the athletes – but my question is: Has this created a perception and expectations that are actually likely to be unfair on our athletes as they enter the World Championships.

Let me be extremely clear: I will be cheering and supporting every single athlete who goes to the world championships and competes on the London Track in the Dockland area. I will commit to following and reporting on them and truly hope that we can return with the largest medal haul that we have seen since the country’s return to international arena….

BUT: Lets also be practical and pragmatic on what is happening and perhaps more importantly lets ensure we Do NOT put undue and unreasonable expectations on the athletes as they go into these championships:

South Africa, being a southern hemisphere nation, have continued the (isolation) format of holding a track and field season that peaks in March / April. This is a time when northern hemisphere are still engaged in winter (base) training, and for distance runners its XC season. Strength, endurance, and base skills are the order of the day in northern hemisphere.

Down south, our athletes are ‘forced’ to peak to be in the frame at national championships, and although they could have backed off if they only had IAAF standards to achieve, the need to compete is aggravated by the National federation to qualify for the team with considerably faster or further performances.

This means our top athletes must compete in the European season in order to get the requirements. There is no rest for our wannabe finalists.

It is relatively easy to post a World Leading or top ranked performance in April, May and even June, when the rest of the world is resting or only just beginning. This in NO WAY is intended to undermine or under value the achievements of any of our athletes, but rather to acknowledge the reality of the rankings in those months.

Sure we have a handful of top athletes who have dominated their events to such an extent that they can to some extent ‘cruise’ the domestic season and then follow a northern peak process to come into form as the worlds top do. Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya are classic examples in this grouping. They are only just reaching their top form.

However consider the likes of the very experienced LJ van Zyl, who is edging the end of an incredible career spanning from his 2005 Helsinki Championships and now still has the desire and motivation to get to London. The IAAF qualification is one thing but the extra demands of ASA standards means adopting a back to back schedule of racing in the hope of making the mark, but in doing so he is likely to burn out with the constant extension / search for a peak to meet national demands.

As supporters we revel in every good place: we celebrate every position and make excuses for conditions, and relish every opportunity to watch our guys against the ‘world’ irrespective of the standard of performance.
Without doubt our “Athletics Public” and interest has grown and in line with the expectations and perception of the number of medals our heroes will bring home. – Some are expecting 7, 8 and more medals, and others are even talking about 100m relay medals- yet the fact is that our ‘potential squad’ have yet to qualify and have a total uphill battle of time and opportunity to even be at London. The basic logistic of getting an entry has been forgotten.

Again I wish to emphasize that I am personally very excited about the potential of SA athletes in London, BUT I worry about the undue pressure that WE are putting on them.
Lets NOT burden them with unrealistic expectations.

The reality is that most top athletes in the world are ‘allowed’ by the structure of national championships, planning and calendars to peak ONCE in a year and then ‘fine tune’ their way to the World (or Olympic / Commonwealth Games) a month or so later.
Consider that UK, (a major medal winner), and France, have their national (and selection) championships last week and next week respectively.

The USA and Jamaican trials were recent as well, and so we see athletes only now hitting form.
This is NOT a perception, but a FACT.
Consider today’s Diamond League in London – a dry run for the Worlds in 26 days time.

Not surprisingly (and correctly) the meeting was a great mix of top UK, USA and nearby performers, but with the minor lanes dominate by UK athletes to get them used to the atmosphere of the stadium in preparation for the worlds. A great way to ‘blood’ them for next week.

BUT here is the killer: watching the coverage (an so not the whole event) I was able to count AT LEAST 3 National Records, 24 Personal Bests, and 16 Seasons Bests….

By example Mo Farah in the non championship 3000m race not only ran a seasons best, but pulled 7 others to personal bests an for most of these 5000m, 10000m contenders this is an indication of faster times in their chosen event next month.

Barbora Spotakova a multiple championships gold medallist, despite her age, threw a seasons best to win the javelin ahead of Kova, who set a new national record in the past week. However, many South Africans are pinning Sunette Viljoen for a medal – and will be disappointed (and perhaps be critical) if she does not make the podium. We all hope she does, but she has had to look at a season that has extended from March to August.

My request is that we dont send our athletes to london on expectations of medals, but rather on repeating current performance or better.

The London Diamond league performances are a CLEAR – UNDENIABLE indication that the athletes are coming to their peak.
By comparison many – many – SA athletes have been on the road, forced to compete to achieve standards beyond the base required..

Add in the financial incentive of competing on the early league, grand prix and challenge events, and the question is: – Can we expect them to go Higher, Further, Faster after such a devastating and demanding season?
Be very clear we, spectators, media, authorities, etc have created this rod for our athletes back – so my APPEAL is lets acknowledge what the guys have achieved over the past 12 months, lets celebrate this, BUT lets please have some realism that the rest of the world have been ‘ALLOWED’ by their domestic rules to have an easier ride to the Worlds in August in London and we need to be extremely supportive of the reality of our situation and our athletes over the next three weeks – Let’s not create the pressure of unrealistic expectations of medals and performances!

One certainty – I and I’m sure every athletics enthusiast – will be rooting for each and every athlete selected by ASA for the trip…. So lets help them by asking them only to achieve their selection performance, a Season Best … then anything more such as a Personal best is a bonus… and we will celebrate each.
The performance is the key – a good or great performance will give them the position they deserve and we have no right to expect anything more.

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