Take your marks, go. Brace yourselves for the start of the Varsity Sports Athletics 2014 season, as the top university athletes strut their stuff in Port Elizabeth on 21st March.
What do the star-studded Twenty20 Cricket, the Indian Premier League, the UK’s Monday Night Soccer and Varsity Sport Athletics have in common? Every event is slick and fast, high octane, intense excitement, where spectators and participants get swept up in the non-stop action. The gun goes off on the 21st March, firing the start of the Varsity Sports Athletics program at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) stadium.
Say good night to the Monday evening yawn. Load up the family and spur on the twenty-six athletes from each of the participating universities as they battle it out for honours. If past performances are a view of the future, you might well be witnessing our next Olympians in action.
After a very successful 2013 program, the participating universities in the Varsity Sports program will again compete across six sporting codes during 2014. The first of these being athletics, which takes place from 21st March to 28 April in Port Elizabeth, Potchefstroom, Stellenbosch and Pretoria. This will be followed by Men’s hockey from 3rd May to 19th May at Wits University in Johannesburg, Stellenbosch, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg (UJ). This will be followed by a comprehensive football program from 21 July to 15 September; netball from 15 September to 20 October, rugby sevens, and beach volleyball from 28 to 30 November.
“If you put together highly trained athletes who are not only competing for themselves but for their teams, you can expect fireworks, and that’s what we’ll get, and plenty of it,” enthuses Trent Key, marketing and sponsorship executive for Varsity Sports. “Last year Zarck Visser (UJ) nearly leapt out the pit with a long jump that propelled him to win the Diamond League in Zurich later in the year. When newcomers with high potential rub shoulders with those who have already donned the green and gold, anything is possible, from personal bests to provincial, national and, who knows, perhaps even world class performances.” And an added incentive to go faster, higher and further is SuperSport, which will televise every event. If you’re going to break a record, this is the right time to do it.
Participating universities across all codes are: Limpopo; Free State (Kovsies); Pretoria (Tuks); Stellenbosch (Maties); NMMU (Port Elizabeth); North-West University (Pukke); Rhodes University; the University of the Western Cape; Witwatersrand (Wits); the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Vaal University of Technology (VUT); Tshwane University of Technology (TUT); the University of Fore Hare (UFH) and the University of Cape Town (UCT).
“While the athletes are the star attractions and the fans the catalyst to bring on the excitement, the reality is without our sponsors (FNB, Wimpy, Samsung, and Jet), we would not be getting SA’s next superstars on the track,” says Duitser Bosman, CEO of Varsity Sports, part of Advent Sport Entertainment & Media (Pty) Ltd. (ASEM) headed by SA rugby legend Francois Pienaar.
Readying the stars for super performance, and teasing out the talent of those up and coming is, on the face of it, the prime aim of the sporting events. However, another Varsity Sports’ key success measurement is full integration of all sportsmen and sportswomen. “The palpable team spirit at the Varsity Sports events shows us that integration on the sports arenas can flow through to the rest of the nation,” says Bosman.
The 2013 season had host of spectacular results, aside from Visser. Tuk’s Rikenette Steenkamp mowed down the field with an excellent 100m hurdles in 13.48 seconds. Simon Magakwe, of Potchefstroom, got close to the 10-second mark for the 100m. Other top performances were from shot putters Ischka Senekal (NMMU) and UJ’s Jaco Engelbrecht, who heaved his way to a shot put distance of 19.27m. Other notable performances were Kovsies’ Wayde van Niekerk, who ran the 400m in 45,89s, and high jumper Leandri Botha. Tuk’s women’s javelin star, Anzel van der Schyff, broke the Varsity Athletics record with a throw of 50,13m.
Two of the finest performances of the year, in terms of smashing the field, were Pukke women’s high jumper Bianca Erwee, who soared to 1.75m, and UJ’s women’s triple jumper, Kelly Kingwill, with a leap of 12.7m.
“Will we see more top performances in 2014?” muses Key. “I would say definitely. We have the right platform, the athletes love the event, the crowds get behind them, add the presence of live TV, and you have the right recipe for records. The meet is as much theatre and drama as it is athletics; fast-paced, entertaining, high-octane and over in 100 minutes.”