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Athletes add four medals to Team SA tally

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By Mark Etheridge
in Glasgow

Track and field stepped up to the plate to hog the limelight at the Commonwealth Games here on Thursday after Team South Africa’s triumphant swimmers had jetted off back home earlier in the evening.

It was a good night for the green and gold army as first Zarck Visser and Rushwahl Samaai took silver and bronze in the long jump – then Wayde van Niekerk added another silver to the kitty in the 400m and Sunette Viljoen made it four medals from athletics with silver in the javelin.

Visser’s best jump of the night was his second effort of 8.12m while Samaai opened with an 8.08 and was unable to improve that as Olympic champion Greg Rutherford took gold with an 8.20m best on the night.

The two South Africans looked like kids at a Christmas party as they joked with the crowds and smiled from start to finish.

‘Yes we had such fun out there,’ said Samaai. ‘That’s the most important thing. It’s a huge breakthrough in my career as I’m still young at 22,’ said the transportation management student at the University of Johannesburg.

Visser echoed his jumping partner’s sentiments. ‘Also a huge breakthrough,’ he grinned, after my disappointments such as World Championships last year. I told “Rush” that qualifying is the most important thing because once you’re in the final that’s where the fun begins. I know what a talent I have and I think I could have got gold but tonight I had to settle for silver.

‘Now we have to pray for maybe gold and silver at next month’s African Championships in Morocco.’

Van Niekerk was next up in the men’s 400m final and ran a mature race that belied his tender age of 22.

He started fast and it was only really ever going to be a question of whether he’d match Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada. On the night it was not to be as James pulled away down the main straight to win in 44.24 with Van Niekerk (44.68) just holding off a fast-finishing Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago (44.78).

It took a Games record by James to seal the victory but Van Niekerk can rest assured he has a very big future in the one-lapper.

‘Aaaah it was tough,’ he said. ‘I had a fast start because I know the first 200m is my forté and I also know that Kirani has a very strong final 100m. My goal going into the race was always going to be top three.

‘It was close though and I could hear that Trinidadian guy coming up on my inside so I had to kinda dive in the last few metres.

‘I think the fact that I ran the 200m first round this morning helped a bit because it loosened my legs. Now we must remember that the African championships is waiting …

‘It’s great to win my first Commonwealth Games medal … I feel the door is now open for me.’

As it will be for a long time. As the victorious James said afterwards: ‘The great Michael Johnson set the world record when he was 32. I’m only 22 now so I’ve got another 10 years to do it in,’ he laughed. Van Niekerk will do well to remember those words as well.

In the final track event involving South African participation, Andre Olivier looked in fine shape as he did just enough to seal his place in the men’s 800m final.

After Kenyan ace David Rudisha had won the first semi-final in 1min 46.61sec, Olivier just needed to make the top three to guarantee his place.

He made the pace for the first lap with an honest 50.73 at the bell and by the time he hit the front straight he was content to let training partner Nijel Amos of Botswana come past as well as Ugandan Ronald Musagala as he saved his legs for the final.

‘I saw the first final was quite slow so I took it out fast,’ he said afterward. ‘It was a bit two-paced but good preparation and there wasn’t much pressure.

‘As for the final, I don’t know what Rudisha will do. He might take it out hard or it might end up a tactical race but I have my own plan for the final.’

Viljoen saved her best for last. Going into the competition with a season’s best of 64.77m she opened with a 62.17 and followed up with throws of 62.13, 62.66, 62.45, 62.41 and then 63.19. Wednesday’s silver adds to her two golds at the last Games in Melbourne and New Delhi and will go some way to making up for her disappointment at the London Olympics two years ago where she left her A-Game at home.

‘This silver medal actually means more to me than my previous Commonwealth golds,’ she said. ‘After the year I’ve been through and all the work my team and I have put in this is huge achievement.’

‘I’m in 65m shape for sure, I’m throwing over 66m in training but the bigger throws will come later in the season I think.

‘Today I may have put slightly longer spikes on than I needed so that may have slowed my run-up a bit.

‘But a series of five 62m efforts and a 63 when it counted gave me huge, huge confidence. Fourth place is the nastiest place to be in athletics. I know it, I was there in London so this just means so much to me.’


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