Johannesburg - After three days of floundering, South Africa’s campaign at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing was given an air of respectability thanks to Wayde van Niekerk and Wenda Nel qualifying for Wednesday's finals in their respective events.
Van Niekerk coasted into the final of the men’s 400m final getting one over yet another one of his main rivals for the title, while Nel made it into her first final of the one-lap hurdles.
Their performances were silver linings on an otherwise cloudy day which saw South Africa’s three long jump stars being knocked out in the qualifying rounds.
This was a major setback for the team in Beijing with Zarck Visser and Ruswahl Samaai ranked second and fourth respectively going into the championships.
Seasoned veteran and Olympic silver medallist Khotso Mokoena missed out of a final berth by the narrowest of margins, posting the same distance as eventual qualifier Radek Juska of the Czech Republic.
Juska made it into the top 12 by virtue of having had two legal jumps and his group ranking (fourth) was better than Mokoena’s.
Van Niekerk showed maturity as he made light work of his semi-final, running blind in lane seven with 2011 World Champion LaShawn Merritt on his inside.
Merritt is the latest scalp in a trio of big names he had beaten in a race this year and even slowed down over the last few metres to win the heat in 44.31, with his American rival clocking 44.34.
The other two contenders, Olympic gold medallist and defending champion Kirani James of Grenada and Isaac Makwala of Botswana, won their heats in 44.16 and 44.11 respectively.
The men’s 400m final is shaping up to be one of the biggest races of the championships with little separating these three gentleman.
Van Niekerk, Makwala, Merritt, James and Saudi Arabia's Yousef Ahmed Masrahi have all dipped below 44 seconds with the latter doing so in the heats at the championships.
Five of the nine finalists boasts sub-44 second times in a list of only 14 athletes in history to have achieved this feat.
Meanwhile, Nel continued to enjoy the fast track at the Bird’s Nest where she set a personal best of 54.37 seconds earlier this year.
On Monday she edged out Britain’s Eilidh Child to finish her semi-final in second place behind the United States’ Cassandra Tate for an automatic qualification into the final with a time of 54.80.
“I have fewer words than when I ran my PB on this track, it was tough but I really enjoyed it,” the Tuks-HPC athlete said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever fought this hard for the line and I surprised myself with still having so much strength left to be able to do it.”
Nel said she had some nerves ahead of the semi-final but felt everything came together as she knew she had to produce a special performance to reach the final.
“I have nothing to lose, so I will fight, and I’ve said if I’ve got a lane, I’ve got a chance to win,” Nel said.
South African women’s 100m ace Carina Horn missed out on a place in the final, finishing sixth in her semi with a time of 11.15.
She needed to improve on her joint-South African record time of 11.06 and dip below 11 seconds for the first time if she wanted to reach the final.
Sprinters Anaso Jobodwana and Akani Simbine will be the only South Africans in action on Tuesday afternoon in the men’s 200m heats.