International Athletics

Mokoena highlights stellar year

2014-12-22 08:00
Khotso Mokoena (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - South African horizontal-jumps king Khotso Mokoena confirmed his status as one of the country's greatest athletes in 2014.

While Mokoena spearheaded South African athletics around the globe this year, the track and field fraternity mourned the death of World Champion and Olympic silver medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi.

Mulaudzi, aged 34, was killed in a car accident in Mpumalanga on October 24.

He is thought to have lost control of his car while travelling towards Johannesburg.

Meanwhile, Mokoena, a former world junior triple jump champion, returned to his favourite hop-skip-and-jump, after focusing on the long jump discipline for the previous six seasons.

The 29-year-old did so with aplomb as he opened his stellar season winning the triple jump gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The Olympic silver medallist later added the African Championships title to his long list of accolades.

En route to bagging a silver medal at the Continental Cup in Marrakech, Morocco, Mokoena set a new national record of 17.35m, improving his own South African record – set in Durban in April 2005 – by 10 centimetres.

He highlighted his versatility becoming the first South African athlete to finish top of the international Diamond League standings, claiming overall victory in the men's long jump discipline.

Mokoena has won a medal at every major international athletics championships – Olympic Games, World Championships, World Indoor Championships, World Junior Championships and Commonwealth Games.

He was, however, not the only South African to dominate the international athletics scene with a new crop of talent making their mark this year.

Although 400m hurdles ace Cornel Fredericks is anything but a new face, 2014 was the year in which he managed to move out of the shadow of his training partner – South African record holder LJ van Zyl – and enjoy the limelight.

Fredericks boasts an impressive collection of gold medals this year, which include the Commonwealth Games, African Championships and Continental Cup titles.

While Mokoena and Fredericks were on fire on the international circuit, it was South African speedster Simon Magakwe that set the local track alight.

After many athletes had tried and failed, Magakwe finally became the first South African to break the sub-10-second barrier in the 100 metres, stopping the clock at 9.98 seconds at the SA Athletics Championships in Pretoria.

In doing so, the North West athlete smashed the South African record of 10.06 seconds that he shared with Johan Rossouw.

Following shortly on his heels was rising star Akani Simbine, who also went below the previous national mark in a time of 10.02 seconds.

The breakthrough athlete of the year was undoubtedly Bloemfontein sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, who, in June, smashed the 15-year-old South African record in the men's 400m at the Diamond League meeting in New York.

Van Niekerk finished the race in second place in 44.38 seconds, beating the national mark of 44.59, jointly held by Arnaud Malherbe (set in Roodepoort in March 1999) and Hendrik Mokganyetsi (in Yokohama in September 2000).

The 21-year-old Van Niekerk improved his previous career best of 44.92, which had been set at the national championships in Pretoria in April.

In July, he clocked a career record of 20.19 seconds in the men's 200m sprint – just 0.08 seconds outside the 13-year-old South African mark of 20.11 held by Morne Nagel.

Van Niekerk held his own against Olympic champion Kirani James of Granada to finish in second place at the Commonwealth Games in the 400m behind his more revered competitor.

To complete his superb year on the track, Van Niekerk stepped onto the podium at the Continental Cup, anchoring the African quartet to gold in the men's 4x400m relay final.

Meanwhile, javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen claimed her third consecutive Commonwealth Games medal finishing in second place in Glasgow.

She went on to scoop her fifth African crown before winning the silver medal at the Continental Cup, a repeat of her accomplishment at the previous edition in Split, Croatia.

South African men's 800m athlete Andre Olivier also contributed to the country's medal tally at the Commonwealth Games where he claimed the bronze.

Olivier was beaten to the line by training partner Nijel Amos of Botswana, who beat world record holder David Rudisha of Kenya.

One-lap hurdler Wenda Nel secured a new personal best in her specialist event, taking first place at the World Challenge track and field series in 54.82 seconds in Marrakech.

After climbing to third place in the South African all-time 400m hurdles rankings with her previous personal best of 54.92 – set in Pretoria in April – Nel inched a little closer to Myrtle Bothma (53.74 in Johannesburg in 1986) and Surita Febbraio (54.05 in Pretoria in 2003) with another superb run.

To add to South Africa's successes this year, the country reclaimed the African Senior Athletics Championship title in Marrakech, where the team won 19 medals, consisting of 10 gold, five silver, and four bronze.

The embattled federation seemed to be getting its house in order when the election of Aleck Skhosana as president brought an end to a year-long power struggle.

The position was left vacant after the previous president James Evans stepped down in February.

Meanwhile, off the track, double-amputee paralympian Oscar Pistorius had been acquitted of murder but convicted of culpable homicide for shooting dead his model and law-graduate girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year.

In October, he was sentenced to five years in jail by the High Court in Pretoria. At the beginning of December, the State was granted leave to appeal the culpable homicide conviction.

On the road running circuit, Stephen Mokoka was the standout performer this season.

He finished 12th at the World Half-Marathon Championships in Copenhagen in March, leading the South African squad to fourth place in the men's team competition. He clocked a personal best of 1:00:47 and set a national 15km record of 42:49 along the way.

He won the Great Scottish Run half-marathon in Glasgow and defended his title at the Shanghai Marathon in 2:08:43.

Meanwhile, Rene Kalmer was the best of the South African women in Copenhagen, finishing 27th in 1:11:53, and she went on to set a 42km career record of 2:29:27 at the Berlin Marathon in September.

In shorter distance events, the nation's elite women's runners stood out, with Irvette van Zyl (32:20) and Lebo Phalula (32:27) climbing into the top five in the all-time SA 10km rankings.

At the other end of the spectrum, in ultra-distance events, local athlete Bongmusa Mthembu won the 89km Comrades Marathon 'down' run in Durban in June, crossing the line in 5:28:29, while Ellie Greenwood became the first British runner to win the women's race (6:18:12).

At the 56km Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town in April, Lebenya Nkoka of Lesotho secured the men's title in 3:09:52 and Russian Nina Podnebesnova grabbed the women's crown in 3:40:07.

In wheelchair racing, Ernst van Dyk won the Boston Marathon for a record 10th time, and quadriplegic athlete Pieter du Preez clocked 2:28:04 to break the T51 world best in Berlin.

Read more on:    khotso mokoena  |  athletics

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