The large team of Athletics Gauteng North (AGN) athletes will be difficult to beat this week, as they take on provincial squads from around the country at the three-day ASA Senior Track and Field Senior Championships starting at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Thursday.
Showcasing the depth of the 125-member AGN team, their men's 100m squad wouldn't look out of place at a major international championship, featuring national 200m record holder Clarence Munyai, sub-10 athletes Gift Leotlela and Henricho Bruintjies, powerhouse sprinter Emile Erasmus and junior prospect Benjamin Richardson.
As strong as their team is, however, AGN won't have it all that easy and they will have to beat the likes of SA record holder Akani Simbine, representing Central Gauteng Athletics (CGA) and 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk, who returns from his base in the United States to represent Boland Athletics (BOLA).
The women's short sprint should also produce a humdinger, which could see a passing of the baton.
National record holder Carina Horn will carry a career of experience into the women's 100m event, but she is going to have to be at her best to beat South Africa's latest sprint sensation, 17-year-old Viwe Jingqi, in the 100m event.
Jingqi, who recently broke the national junior 100m record (11.22 seconds) at the ASA U16, U18 and U20 Championships in Potchefstroom, will be aiming for a big scalp against Horn, the country's only sub-11 sprinter.
In the women's 5 000m event, three-time 800m world champion Caster Semenya will turn out among the favourites, with a cracking race expected against some of the country's top long distance runners.
Semenya is up against training partner and AGN teammate Glenrose Xaba, as well as US-based Olympian Dominique Scott-Efurd, who turns out for host province Western Province Athletics (WPA).
The line-up also includes road running sensation Tayla Kavanagh, who competes for KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA) and SA cross country champion Kesa Molotsane, who carries the hopes of the Athletics Free State (AFS) squad.
A tussle is also expected in the men's 5 000m event, which features another glittering line-up. The field includes versatile distance runner Precious Mashele (CGA), SA cross country champion Mbuleli Mathanga (KZNA), national record holder Elroy Gelant and his Athletics Central North West (ACNW) teammate Jerry Motsau.
Motsau, the national 3 000m record holder, is also up against in-form 800m runner Tshepo Tshite (AGN) and rising star Ryan Mphahlele (CGA) in the men's 1 500m event.
Rising hurdles star Taylon Bieldt has a double battle on her hands and both races should produce thrilling contests.
In the 100m hurdles, Bieldt is up against in-form AGN teammate Marione Fourie, who dipped under 13 seconds for the first time at the ASA Grand Prix 4 meeting in Germiston last week and will line up as the favourite for the national title.
Bieldt will also have a chance in the 400m hurdles, but again she will have to be at her best to beat the one-lap specialists.
She faces Wenda Nel, who is in search of her 10th national 400m hurdles title, former world junior champion Zeney van der Walt and former Youth Olympic champion Gezelle Magerman, who have all been in good form so far this season.
In other events, in-form athlete Jovan van Vuuren (AGN) will face African champion Ruswahl Samaai (BOLA) and lightning fast Cheswill Johnson (CGA) in the men's long jump.
There will also be interest in some of SA's most promising young athletes, with the likes of Emele Keyser (110m hurdles), Brian Raats (men's high jump), Precious Molepo (women's 400m), Lythe Pillay (men's 400m) and Mckyla van der Westhuizen (javelin throw) looking to stun their senior opponents by securing national titles.
“The national track and field season has been building up to this and we indeed expect it to be a cracker of a Championship. Our athletes have shown during the ASA Athletics Grand Prix Series, the various Provincial Championships, ASA 35km Race Walking Championships and Inter-provincial Race-Walking Challenge, and the Youth & Junior Champs, that this is going to be an exciting track & field season. And indeed, it is!
“The three days of competition is likely to see a few upsets from younger athletes from the youth and junior category who have thrown the gauntlet at the senior athletes that they want their titles. I think we are going to see an emergence of young female athletes at senior level with great performances.
“Of course, we hope that the weather in Cape Town behaves well, so that we can achieve some good performances that will give our athletes the confidence they need before they go into the international stage,” said James Moloi, the President of Athletics South Africa.
All three days of competition at the ASA Senior Championships will be broadcast live on SuperSport (Variety 4).