London - As South Africa’s golden girl Caster Semenya gears up to reclaim the women’s 800m title tonight, Athletics SA will look back to this year’s championships as the most successful in recent years. The IAAF World Championships has seen Mzansi reach a haul of five medals, the highest in history, and that list could grow tonight should Semenya power herself to gold.
Only the brave few will bet against the Limpopo-born star as she has been in fantastic form since the beginning of the year.
She won her semifinal heat – round one – clocking in 1:58:90, and she will face familiar foes in Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, whom she has not lost against this year.
For South Africans, this year’s championships will be remembered for two of its biggest stars, Wayde van Niekerk and Semenya, who ventured into new events in the men’s 200m and women’s 1 500m.
They excelled at their first time of asking in these events and have promised to do them regularly. Olympic record-holder Van Niekerk had committed himself early before the competition to do the 200m, but Semenya decided just two weeks before the championships that she wanted to try out the 1 500m. Semenya also did the 4x400m relay as part of her plans to do more events at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.
Van Niekerk clocked 20.09 seconds to take silver in the 200m to add to the gold he won in the 400m, while Semenya took a bronze medal in the 1 500m managing 4:02:09 in an event that she does not specialise in.
Team SA sent 27 athletes to London.
South African 100m record-holder Akani Simbine was perhaps the biggest disappointment at the championships. He held his own to finish fifth with 10.15 seconds in a tough 100m final. He surprisingly failed to qualify for the 200m final after clocking 20.62 to finish in seventh place in the semifinal.
His season best is 19.97 in the 200m, but he flopped when he was expected to compete with Van Niekerk in the final. Simbine promised a lot, but delivered little. For a man of his calibre, he was expected to do better and so we wait for his first major international podium.
The marathon team
As an experienced member of the team, Lusapho April didn’t bother to show up on race day, reportedly because of issues with his passport. But insiders said that was not entirely true, and the reason he decided to snub the marathon team was that he was allegedly no longer interested in the race.
Sibusiso Nzima pulled out after 27km due to fatigue, while Desmond Mokgobu could only manage 21st place with a time of 2:16:14.
The ladies team of Mapaseka Makhanya and Jenna Challenor managed 40th with 2:47:22 and 59th in 2:40:50, respectively.
The marathon team flopped, proving once more that the state of SA marathon running is on a downward spiral.
Youngsters Thando Roto and Clarence Munyai were disqualified in their 100m and 200m events.
Wenda Nel was eliminated in the semifinal of the women’s 400m hurdles after clocking 55.70 seconds.
Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai shone in the men’s long jump final. Manyonga took gold with a leap of 8.48m, while Samaai’s 8.32m jump earned him bronze. The pair became the first South African athletes to win two medals in the same event.
Van Niekerk and Semenya’s gamble with more than one event paid off.
At the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China, South Africa managed only three medals – this time, they were on five before Semenya’s run tonight.