South African athlete Phathutshedzo ‘Shaun’ Maswanganyi (Photo: Twitter / @tshedzom)
There are over 100 South African athletes on the US college track and field circuit. South Africa needs to forge good relationships with universities to harness this talent.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
When Riaan Dempers returned from his scholarship period at the University of South Carolina, it was as a sought-after marketing and management graduate in the United States, graduating with honors.
The major downside to this academic triumph was that it came at the expense of a promising athletic career, with Dempers leaving South Africa with major championship title dreams and returning with tendon issues. Achilles, which would lead to early retirement.
A sprint prodigy in the mid-1990s, Dempers had gone to the United States to explore the potential cap that had achieved personal bests of 20.16 seconds over 200m – and 45.15 seconds over the full lap – at 18, the first time making him the national record holder. and then the fastest teenager in the world.
But a combination of an appendectomy in its first season, difficulty adjusting to extra turns on indoor tracks, and being driven into the ground by unsympathetic managers at college saw the “Bullet of.” Bethal ”limping at home with chronic paratenonitis of both Achilles tendons.
Good management is crucial
Former South African middle distance runner Jean Verster, a 1980s University of Nebraska alumnus, said Dempers’ experience was an example of how things could go wrong. ‘collapse on these exchanges when poorly managed.
“He’s a clear example of what shouldn’t happen,” Verster says. “Basically, a lot of universities in the United States feel like they’re investing a lot in you and wanting as much as they can from you. Universities are owned by conferences and they have so many different divisions. It’s all about scoring points in the matches they have against each other.
“The problem is, we don’t want them to take away as much as possible from the athletes. We want them to help them grow so that when they come back they can become very good athletes.
As one of the first South African athletes to take the American college route after isolation, Dempers’ story became an edifying tale of the pitfalls of the American Dream until the former student of the Jackson State University, Anaso Jobodwana, won bronze at the 200m world championships in 2015.
With Wayde van Niekerk breaking the 400m world record from his base in Bloemfontein, Caster Semenya (800m) and Luvo Manyonga (long jump) dominating their events in Pretoria and Akani Simbine establishing himself as a world class athlete in the 100m from the same seat, the consensus It seemed like you didn’t have to travel to the United States to find performance.
But Shaun Maswanganyi’s recent performances – which saw him qualify for this year’s Olympics in the 100m (10.04 seconds) and 200m (20.19 seconds) at the University of Houston – have somewhat revived the debate.
Of course, Maswanganyi, who only moved to the United States after the Covid-19 lockdown last year, is in the privileged position of having caught the attention of a certain Carl Lewis as a sprinter. who can also do the long jump.
This resulted in the barely believable circumstances in which Maswanganyi found himself coached by both the nine-time Olympic gold medalist – who works pro bono in college – and the former 100m world record holder. and Olympic gold medalist in the 4 x 100m (Barcelona) Leroy Burrell with the Cougars.
By her own admission the training was survival training for the most suitable strain and it took some getting used to but between that and the experience at her disposal one should say it seems to work. .
The 20-year-old’s story could be the tip of the iceberg as he is said to be one of more than 100 South African athletes – mostly between 19 and 23 years old – currently competing in the college system. American through sports scholarships.
“They’re spread out all over the United States and are of all skill levels, which means we don’t know anything about some of these kids because they haven’t even run into SA schools,” Verster says.
“The variety of their level is very great, but we try to keep an eye out for the best athletes.”
Establish formal links
Sports administrator for the University of the Northwest these days, Verster – who for years has used the Pukke facility as a preseason training base for international athletes looking to train in the heat and calm of Potchefstroom during the winter of the northern hemisphere – was also recently appointed. the chairman of the South African Athletics Commission.
It is in this capacity that he would like to do something closer to the formalization of what are essentially comings and goings without documents: “It is not a decision of the council because it has not been discussed, but my point is we can’t stop the kids from going I see it as an opportunity where another country’s system actually improves our athletes and we can benefit from that.
“When I was in the United States, there were between three and four thousand universities; now you have up to six thousand and our athletes could be any of them.
“If we can build a good relationship with about 20 of them, where we could maybe have an arrangement with them where the South African kids that we targeted would go there, I think we could benefit from that.
“I think we need to see the big picture and embrace American colleges instead because we can’t stop them from going there. Yes, it would be better in some cases if we kept them here, but we can’t stop them from leaving because they would be foolish not to accept these US scholarships when no one is offering them here.
For the large number of students roaming the US college scene, the fact that he has so far only given two qualifiers for the SA team (the other US-based qualifier is the former rider University of Arkansas middle distance Dominique Scott-Efurd) suggests the current system is a bit hit and miss, given the competition, facilities and training they are exposed to.
Verster said Francois Prinsloo – a 19-year-old from Worcester whose personal best of 65.85m for the University of Southern Alabama last week fell to just 6 inches from the Olympic qualifying standard – could qualify in the weeks leading up to the June 29 deadline. of the South African Sports Confederation and the Olympic Committee.
Ditto Adriaan Wildschutt, 23, coached by Zola Pieterse (née Budd), whose second-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships was an improvement over Verster’s fifth-place finish in the 1980s as the best result in the ‘a South African in the competition. (The Florida State student ran in the 13.30 for the 5000m, which should translate into a stronger time on the outside.)
Nonetheless, that would only increase the total of qualifiers to four out of over 100, which means the approach needs to be more focused.
“This child [Prinsloo] is 20 this year and he’s already one of the favorites for the NCAA title next week… We have to keep an eye on him and his coaches on this side and also with his parents on this side.
“We have to include it as much as possible in our teams to develop it… Yes, we won’t be able to do it with the 100 athletes and more currently in the United States, but as much as possible, we should do it with the most. from as many people as possible, especially the best high performance athletes.
“We have to see this as a benefit to our athletics, rather than as a lot of people still see it, which is that they are stealing our athletes and will kill them.” DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Smart Pick n Pay shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.
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This notice was published: 2021-06-06 13:07:41