Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
AS a new year begins, the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe want a shift in focus with more attention being paid to closed and targeted competitions for top athletes as they seek to increase their chances of making the grade for the major competitions in 2018.

For this year the major competitions are the African Youth Games in Algeria, in July, Youth Olympic Games in Argentina in October and the IAAF World Under-20 (Junior) championships in Finland in July as well as the African Senior championships set for Nigeria, in August.

In a move, the athletics mother body believes will increase local athletes’ chances of qualifying for these competitions, NAAZ president, Tendai Tagara said they are going to have closed competitions targeting a specific group of athletes. It will also see them limiting the number of events per competition, focusing more on events they believe Zimbabwean athletes stand a better chance of qualifying.

“There will be specific athletes that will be invited, for example the top 24 or 16 in a specific event for the targeted competitions. We are saying we want the best to run the best to push each other. So there will be closed and open competitions.

“We are not pushing anyone away because it doesn’t mean the top 24 or 16 will remain the same because there will be statistics and times in terms of how they are performing. So it can change.

“The targeted competitions in Harare and Bulawayo must not have more than 10 events because those events are the ones we are targeting to qualify for. But when clubs and provinces are having competitions they can have as many events as they can.

“So you will find that there will be permanent events such as 100m, 200m and 400m and some will be rotating. For example if we have 4x100m in Harare, in Bulawayo we will have 4x400m. Targeted competitions must be short and precise because these are trial competitions.

“That’s what happens in Europe, like the Diamond League, it’s not all events that are run, that’s where we are copying. It’s from the IAAF set-up, so we are going to have changes because we want to be specific and precise,” said Tagara.

NAAZ are also relying on a series competitions they will host alongside Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Mauritius. Each country will host at least two competitions on different dates featuring the other countries. They will be held in-between the major competitions as a way of preparing their athletes.

Botswana are set to host their events in March and May, while South Africa are expected to have their series in February and April. Zambia have also set March and April as the months on which they will stage their events.

Zimbabwe will then take over the baton in June with the competitions also being used as a platform to fine tune for the World Junior championships and the Africa Senior championships.

“We are bringing in series competitions to be held in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana and Mauritius are the fifth country. But usually it’s those four Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana.

“Each country gives a date on when they want to host their series, a one-day competition to run within two hours. The idea is to have each country have a competition in preparation of a major competition. So for the other countries they have theirs up to April because they are using it polish up for the Commonwealth Games,” said Tagara.

With South Africa having their first series in February, Tagara said they are starting their competitions, to run between Harare and Bulawayo this week so that they have a team comprising youths, juniors and seniors in place for the meet.

For the World Junior and Africa Senior championships, the national association will use the competitions to measure their chances for the 2019 IAAF World championships and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

In 2017, Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the track and field events for the World Championships, which is of major concern for the athletics mother body as the numbers have continued to decrease over the years.

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