The South African athletics team could have a kind of “home advantage” on foreign soil at this year’s World Athletics Championships in the US.

This is because a significant number of Mzansi’s athletes are based in the US,

the host country of the global track and field competition that takes place in Eugene, Oregon, from July 15 to 24.

Star long jumper Ruswahl Samaai could be the latest on the long list of South Africans to secure a move to the US. Pending visa approval, the 30-year-old is on the verge of relocating to Atlanta, Georgia.

Samaai has teamed up with retired American long jump icon-turned-coach Dwight Phillips, a four-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist.

South Africa has a long history of connections with American athletics, a relationship that dates back to the time of the likes of the iconic Elana Meyer and Jean Verster, the renowned mid- and long-distance coach who guided Caster Semenya to world and Olympic medals.

In the US, Samaai will be in the company of a few compatriots who will also be eyeing qualifying marks for the July championships.

The athlete from Paarl, Western Cape, is keenly awaiting his visa, a process he said had been ongoing for three months.

This includes sorting out the relocation process with the immigration officers in the US.

“We thought it was going to be an easy process, but it turned out to be quite a drag. Three months is a long time to wait,” Samaai told City Press.

He is relocating with his wife, Alecha Thops-Samaai.

With a dream move sealed, Samaai is hoping to take his game up a notch, even if that meant having to separate from long-time coach Jenny Kingwell, who steered him to podium finishes at the 2017 World Championships; the 2014, 2016 and 2018 African Championships; and the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“One of the reasons to move to the US is that they have a strong field of men’s long jumpers.

“Coach Jenny and I had a nice chat after the Tokyo Olympics. She was not just a coach, but a motherly figure. It is about progression and the parting of ways was on good terms.

“I’ll be working with a coach as well as athletes who know and understand what it takes to win. This is a guy who has been on podiums at multiple major events. So he knows his business on how to nurture athletes, and I am waiting to see what is in store for me,” said the battle-scarred Samaai.

“I am really excited at the prospect of going to work with one of the best long jump coaches in the world.”

Star jumper is the latest local athlete to find a new home in the US.

Phillips has already hinted that he’ll take Samaai out of his comfort zone and put him in “the real sprinting world” to compete with the best of the best.

“My coach told me he’s going to make me run the 100m and the 200m, as well as the 60m because he needs me to execute more on my speed, which is my strength.

It is something I’m looking forward to.”

At the height of his career, Phillips used to lead a US one-two in almost every final at

major international competitions, until a generation that included South African talent – Khotso Mokoena, Samaai and Luvo Manyonga – interrupted the Americans’ monopoly in the long jump.

With the World Athletics Championships scheduled to be staged in the US for the first time, Samaai believes he and other US-based South Africans can gatecrash the Americans’ party.

“I think we have quite a home advantage,” he said in jest.

On a serious note, Samaai explained what could stand his nation in good stead: “Travelling to a major championship five days before is not ideal for any athlete. This is something we normally do with ASA [Athletics SA] and even Sascoc, getting to a base four or five days before competition and we are expected to perform at our optimum.

“So being based in a country that will host the event should give us an advantage to prepare without worrying about long travel.”

Outlining his goals for this year, Samaai wishes to improve on his bronze medal from the 2017 World Championships, as well as his personal best jump of 8.49m.

“Getting a World Champs gold medal will be marvellous, but it’s a step-by-step process to get there.”

Samaai is part of the ASA preparation squad for this year’s major championships, which include the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK, from July 28 to August 8.

Source: City Press

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