CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South African 800-metres runner Caster Semenya headlines a list of 137 athletes who will represent the country at next month’s Rio Olympics.
The 2012 London Games silver medalist was named by the country’s Olympic Committee on Thursday as one of 39 track and field athletes and she will compete only in her specialist distance after ditching plans to also take part in the 400 meters race.
Semenya, who had to undergo gender testing before being cleared to compete as a woman after winning the world championship in 2009, is the favorite to win the 800m gold in Rio after clocking 1:56.64 in May, the quickest time by a woman this year.
Winning gold would be a personal triumph for the 25-year-old, who has spent much of the last three years off the track with a succession of injuries.
Also among the South African medal hopefuls is men’s 400-metres world champion Wayde van Niekerk.
Javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen, who finished fourth in London and had previously played international cricket for the South African women’s team, is also a medal contender.
Veteran Springbok wing Bryan Habana was, however, overlooked for a place in the fancied Rugby Sevens side. His former Bok team mate, center Juan de Jongh, was included in the squad.
Following the withdrawals of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, Jaco van Zyl and Brandon Stone, ranked 67th and 92nd respectively, were named as the two golfers in the team as the sport makes its Olympic comeback following an absence of 112 years.
Top contenders in the pool will be Olympic champion and butterfly specialist Chad le Clos, who announced earlier this week that both his parents are battling cancer, while Cameron van der Burgh will compete in the breaststroke.
The country’s Olympic Committee also confirmed an incentive program to reward competitors who make the winners’ podium.
A gold medal will be worth R500,000 (US$35,000), while silver is rewarded with R250,000 (US$17,500) and bronze R100,000 (US$7,000).
South Africans will also compete in soccer, badminton, aquatics, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, judo, rowing, triathlon and sailing.
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Pritha Sarkar)