The new generation of track and field athletes at the University of Johannesburg are putting the final touches to their preparations ahead of the first of two Varsity Athletics meetings, which takes place in Potchefstroom on Tuesday evening.
Due to the competition’s 25-year age limit, UJ will be without the services of their “old guard” of stars, which includes last year’s men’s shot-put silver medallist Jaco Engelbrecht, women’s long-jump winner Patience Ntshingila and African long-jump champion Zarck Visser.
But, according to UJ athletics manager Roger Haitengi, the institution would once again bring a very competitive squad peppered with international medallists and up-and-coming athletes.
“We have a lot of surprises in store. Although it’s still a very young squad, those who participated in last year’s event have matured and are ready to step up at this high level of competition.”
Haitengi said the university was historically strong in the field, especially in the jumping and throwing events, and would once more have a lot to offer.
Heading up the UJ contingent will be shot-putter Johnny Botha, who heaved a season’s best of 17.29m at the Pukke Prestige Meet in Sasolburg on Thursday.
“Our triple-jumper Apelele Rasmeni will also definitely clear 16 metres soon,” said Haitengi. “He was SA silver medallist three years ago and already opened his season with a leap of 15.55 metres.”
In the women’s discus, he said, Elizabeth Loots and last year’s runner-up Lezaan Jordaan would power the UJ team in the cage.
Haitengi said Maryke Brits would be an athlete to watch in the long-jump pit, having set a new personal best of 6.24m at a recent Central Gauteng Athletics meeting.
He added that Brits would also form part of the women’s 4 x 100m relay team as UJ sought to expand their influence on the track.
“Our top six men and women sprinters are looking good. On average, the men are clocking in at 10.5 seconds but the changeover will be the most critical part.”
Haitengi said Botswanan 200m specialist Tsaone Sebele also appeared to be in form after running the 100m in 12.0 seconds in Sasolburg.
“And in her main event she even accelerates towards the end, so that I’m also excited about.”
While strong individual performances were critical to success, he said their contribution to the performance of the team as a whole was the most important thing.
“As a team, you can’t focus only on certain areas as every event counts and you want to go for maximum points for the overall win.”
Haitengi said the competition between institutions would be a lot stiffer than in previous years and that he expected their main opposition to come from hosts North-West University as well as the universities of Pretoria and the Free State.
“Each university has its strengths. Tuks have the sprinters, Pukke have more middle-distance runners and javelin throwers and they both have strong women’s contingents.”
However, he said, the smaller institutions were not to be discounted.
“They are the dangerous ones because they can take you out of the game.”
While the hosts would have the home track advantage and crowd support, Haitengi said the nature of athletics was that anything could happen on the day.
He said UJ’s Visser, Ntshingila and other senior athletes would still be on hand to provide support and mentoring to their teammates before, during and after the meet.
“Ours will be one of the most spirited teams in the competition. We back each other almost as a family unit and that helps to produce results.”
The action starts at 6pm and will be televised live on DStv’s SuperSport 6 channel.