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Gelant, Semenya run Rio qualifying times as stars shine in Cape Town

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By Mark Etheridge

South Africa’s track stars left the best to last in Tuesday night’s second leg of the ASA Night Series at Green Point Stadium.
On an evening tailor-made for top track and field, first Elroy Gelant then Caster Semenya bettered Olympic Games qualifying times in the 5000 and 800 metres respectively.
As conditions cooled on a balmy Mother City evening, Gelant ran a solo race to clock a fine 13min 20.70sec, comfortably inside the 13:25.00 standard.
Ten minutes later and it was 2012 Olympic silver medallist Semenya who also went solo to stop the clocks at 2:00:23 for the two-lapper. That was also nicely inside the 2:01.50 guideline.
‘I could feel the media pressure growing in the build-up to this race,’ said Galant. “I’m not the most confident mediawise but sometime it’s a good thing.
‘’I always said I wanted to qualify before running Saturday’s Two Oceans marathon so I have got that out of the way. Now I’ll run that half-marathon and I’m hoping for a top 10 finish. Next step will be to try and take another five seconds off my time on the European circuit but first it’s back to basics and SA Championships are three weeks away.
As for Semenya she ran almost identical splits en route to her best time for a few seasons and, remarkably, it’s the quickest time in the globe this year.
‘Yeah, I’m happy with the splits I ran tonight,’ said Semenya. ‘That’s something coach [Jean Verster] and I have been working on. Next thing is to go under the two minute barrier, all stuff we’re working on. From now on it’s all about the time. I want to run one more race by SA championships and go under 2min.
‘Then there are possibilities of a race in either Rabat or Doha but not yet decided which one.’
Semenya also said she wasn’t ruling out the possibility of tackling both the 800m and 400m at the Rio Olympics. ‘I hope so but that will all depend on what’s best for the team’s interests,’ she said.
‘In the 400m I’ll target 50sec first now and maybe I can double up but obviously my main target is the 800m’
First track race on the main programme was the men’s 400m hurdles where two-time Olympian LJ van Zyl notched up another sub 50-sec finish, holding off Lindsay Hanekom down the main straight to win in 49.77.
That was just outside the 49.40 Games qualifying time but Van Zyl is a seasoned and patient campaigner. ‘It’s only my second race of the season and everything’s going well, no niggles etc. I came down a day earlier just to settle in nicely.
‘This is my 139th sub-50sec race and I think my next sub 49.50 finish will be my 100th! Now for SA’s in three weeks.’
Then it was the turn of 2014 Olympic Youth Games gold medallist Gezelle Magerman in the women’s 400m hurdles.
And her on-going rivalry with Jean-Marie Senekal continued as she held the latter off in the last few metres.
‘She beat me in our last race on Friday when I hit the final hurdle… today it was her turn, I heard her hit that final hurdle and knew that tonight was my time,’ a beaming Magerman who was watched by her family who made the trip down from the West Coast to watch their Youth Olympics darling, told Road to Rio 2016.
‘I just had a little hiccup before the sixth hurdle tonight, but otherwise it went well tonight.’
The sprint events have been in the spotlight for South Africans in recent times with the exploits of Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies slugging it out for the national record. After jointly holding it at 9.97sec, Simbine upped the ante at the first leg of the series to clip 0.01sec off that and claim sole ownership.
At the time of Tuesday night’s 100m conditions had chilled noticeably, begging the question as to whether the sprints couldn’t have been run slightly earlier in warmer surroundings.
But Bruintjies’ mind wasn’t really on record-breaking exploits as he won in 10.26, a time that a few years ago would have had the track aficianados sitting up and getting excited… proof of the strides SA sprinting has taken recently.
‘The record is really not on my mind right now,’ said Bruintjies. ‘That I’ll take aim at later in the year. This was my first big race of the year so it’s just to see where I am. Even SA’s is not the main goal this year. Akani and I are pushing the boundaries in training which is great… I knew he was in shape to break that record.
‘It was great to have my mom watching me in the crowd tonight, I haven’t seen her for a while now.. but getting back to the SA record, I still want it at the end of this season.’
A few minutes earlier and Alyssa Conley is also taking SA sprinting forward at pace.
She’s posted provisional qualifying times in both the 100 and 200m already this season.
And while she’ll take her 11.29 winning time for now, she’s already moving on.
‘Tonight was good but not great. I knew after my first step that it wasn’t coming together and basically just ran through. But I’m happy with my consistency at this time of the season,’ concluded the Morne Nagel trained athlete.

Picture of Semenya courtesy of ROGER SEDRES (IMAGESA)


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