JOHANNESBURG: Former world 800-meter champion Caster Semenya hopes to secure a place this weekend in the South Africa team for the 2012 London Olympics.
The 21-year-old medal prospect competes in the two-day national championships at Nelson Mandela University in Indian Ocean city Port Elizabeth from Friday with other Olympic hopefuls.
South African Olympic officials – mindful of claims that past Games teams contained no-hopers – have insisted athletes reach qualifying times at least twice before being selected for the quadrennial multi-sport showcase.
Semenya bettered the 1 minute 59.90 second qualifying time last year in South Korea when finishing second behind Russian Mariya Savinova in her world title defense and must do so again to seal a first Games appearance.
She changed coaches last year, replacing Michael Seme with former Olympic 800-meter gold medalist Maria Mutola from neighboring Mozambique, and the pair have targeted a sub-2-minute run this weekend.
“We are looking for anything under 2 minutes this weekend,” stressed the Mozambican who struck gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and represented her country at football before teaming up with Semenya.
“If we go to Europe with anything under 2 minutes it would be a good thing – but two something could be a problem confidence wise,” the 39-year-old coach said.
Semenya backed her handler: “I am capable of running below 2 minutes so I will try to reach that goal on Saturday provided the weather is good,” she said of the venue in the “Windy City.”
“Maria has been really good for me. She has not changed much in my training program, but is concentrating more on my race tactics and some technique work.”
The South African runner endured a difficult three years after her 2009 world title in Berlin.
She underwent gender tests that sidelined her for 11 months and was hampered by a back injury.
Semenya, 400-meter hurdler LJ van Zyl, women’s javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen and a 4×400-meter relay team including Van Zyl and double-amputee Oscar Pistorius are considered the best South African athletics medal prospects.
Van Zyl is the only athlete who has clinched a place in the London-bound team and Pistorius needs one more sub-45.30 second race to book a place as a 400-meter runner.