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Call it the Caster show as Semenya shines with treble SA champs win!
- Updated: April 16, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
One might as well rename the South African national track and field championships that came to an end at Coetzenburg, Stellenbosch on Saturday.
Call it the Caster Championships as 2012 Olympic 800-metre silver medallist and former world champion Caster Semenya (pictured above) ran her way into history with an incredible treble track victory… in the space of one day.
She won the one-lapper 400m, the two-lapper 800m and the metric mile 1500m… in the space of just over four hours. It’s a feat never achieved by a South African woman.
She also achieved Olympic Games qualifying times in the the two shorter distances, proving that this is simply no ordinary human being and she’s proved that she’s even more of an athlete from the troubling times when there was so much turbulence over the gender issue which led to her being suspended after her 2009 World Championships win in Berlin.
First up was the 400m, just past 1pm and she cruised to her best time yet, a fine 50.74. That’s not far off the world’s fastest time thus far, American Jaide Stepter’s 50.91 just over two weeks ago.
Fifty minutes later it was her signature event, the 800m and after a first lap of just under 60sec there wasn’t much indication of anything special to come but she just wound up the pace with about 250m to go and stretched out to a 1:58.45 victory, the fastest on the globe this year.
After that victory she had the ‘luxury’ of three hours rest before her last, and longest event!
But it seems nothing is too much for this superstar as she went on to win in 4:10.93, outside the Olympic qualifying standard but no-one’s asking any questions.
‘Even I’m quite impressed with the performances of tonight. I didn’t expect to run like this, well fast times like this,’ Semenya said. ‘The 400 and 800, it was just marvellous. The legs don’t feel too much pain but I’ll pay tomorrow,’ she said.
Runner-up in the 1500m was Dominique Scott-Efurd, who made the trip back from United States especially to run the nationals. She clocked 4:14.23.
Almost overshadowed but probably something he’s quite happy about, being the quiet kind, in the men’s one-lapper world champion Wayde van Niekerk delivered another consummate performance to just dip under the 45sec barrier by 0.02sec.
After a gentle start he came into his own with around 150m to go and it was game, set and match for the Bloemfontein blitz.
‘I’ve been struggling a bit with the last 200m in the heats and semis so tried a bit of a different strategy this time,’ he said after a warm down.
‘I’ve faced a few challenges this week so just wanted to finish up strongly here, both in this race and at the championships and of course take the national title.’
The challenges mentioned were both physical and emotional. ‘I’ve been battling with a tight back and hamstring so have been watching that carefully and then it was bad to see my friend Akani Simbine hurting after the 100m final. We feed off each other’s good results and forms so that wasn’t great to see.
‘Obviously Rio Olympics are the main focus this year and I’ll head to June in Europe after my university exams but I also have Student Championships locally.
‘And I also have a few weeks scheduled in Jamaica which I’m looking forward to, always great to learn new stuff from your peers and they might even learn a bit from me. We’ll be with Glen Mills who is a brilliant coach and it’s also great to see that my own coach, Ans Botha, is also being recognised as a coach of note.
In the men’s two-lapper it was Athletics North West’s Jacob Rozani who finished like a steam train to take the honours in 1:46.26 from last year/s World Student Games bronze medallist Rynardt van Rensburg (1:46.58) as London Olympian Andre Olivier took a tumble with around 250m to go and failed to finish.
‘It’s my fourth year getting the silver medal but I ran a season’s best! There’s a lot of work to do but I’m very excited for the rest of the season and for what’s coming,’ said the Bloemfonteiner.
In the men’s 1500m it was Central Gauteng’s Flavia Sehohle who won a tactical race in 3:42.41, well off the Olympic qualifying time of 3:36.20. Multiple SA champion Johan Cronje was third in 3:42.58, just 0.04sec behind Dumisane Hlaselo.
Just like he did last year Ruswahl Samaai was the dominant force in the men’s long jump as he soared to a world-leading 8.34m with his first jump… game over for his competitors.
At a championships that saw national record holder Khotso Mokoena opting to concentrate on the triple jump and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Zack Visser in action, Samaai was the pick of the long jumpers.
Confidence is the former Paarl athlete’s second name – ‘I knew I was going to win today. In fact I was even thinking about going as far as 8.60 and landing an SA record but that will come, that will come.
‘The main thing today was to defend my title and gain extra motivation. I was hoping to get better and better but then I got a bit of cramp which held me back a bit.
‘But as I said, my guns were ready today and I can here to battle.’
Next up for Samaai are Diamond League meetings in Shanghai, China and Hengelo, Netherlands, the first coming on 12 May. And there’s also meeting in Rome coming up.
‘My coach, Jenny Kingwell and I will now continue to work on the small things that will bring that big jump.’
Surely the letdown of the day was the prodigiously talented Luvo Manyonga who only landed one legal attempt.
Two red-flags on his first jump saw him under pressure to make the cut for the final round and in what was pretty much a run-through saw him credited with one legal jump of just 6.70m, not enough to see him progress at his former base before he headed north to Pretoria.
But expect him to bounce back soon… his skills are too good to keep down for long.
The days events got underway before the sun had risen over the Stellenbosch mountains with little Anel Oosthuizen crusing to an easy defence of her 20km women’s race-walking title.
She clocked 1hr 37min 21sec for an impressive victory making of more than four minutes over runner-up Corli Swart.
Just back from Europee where she set a new SA mark in Czech Republic last week, Oosthuizen told Road to Rio 2016: ‘I was a bit tired after last week’s efforts and then all the travel and getting used to some warm weather compared to the cold of Slovakia.
‘Main thing was to defend my title from here last year and then to also walk a personal best here on SA soil. Until today my best in South Africa was a 1:38:03 so I had fun today.
‘The course was a little bit up and down (10 laps of 2km) and I felt my legs getting tired later on.
‘Now coach Carl Meyer and I will work on a few more things before I head to Rome in May for a World Cup event and then it’s African Championships in Durban in May.’
In the men’s walk there were other excellent performances from national record holder Lebogang Shange who won in 1:20:42 and the ever-improving Wayne Snyman was timed at 1:20:49, unlike the 1:28 given in the official results..
‘I walked a massive PB again, 80:49 (59sec better than my previous best) and another Olympic qualifier,’ he said. I’m really so blessed with my amazing team. Thanks everyone for the support – coach and wife continue to be my biggest supporters.’
Other results saw local athlete Antonio Alkana notch up another Rio Games time to win the 110m hurdles in 13.37sec, big Orazio Cremona won the men’s shot put with a heave of 19.85m but still 65cm off the Games qualifying time, and in the hammer it was veteran Chris Harmse who won an umpteenth SA title in this event with a throw of 73.32m with his penultimate throw.
The women’s 200m saw Alyssa Conley wrap up a sprint double with victory in 23.01, also an Olympic qualifying time, Lynique Prinsloo won the women’s long jump in 6.59, while little Nolene Conrad won the 3000m steeplechase in 10:38.35.
Last but no by means least – take your hat off to a legend of South African field athletics.
Chris Harmse, call him the Thor of national field action, notched up an incredible 21st national hammer-throw victory.
A 73.32m effort with his penultimate launch on Saturday gave him gold, with a victory margin of more than four metres. More importantly it’s a world record equalling number of national athletics titles and he now sits alongside fellow hammer-thrower Yugoslavia’s Srecko Stiglic with 21 national titles.
If anyone didn’t need any motivation to stick around for another national championships and make that global feat his own, it’s the giant Vaal Triangle athlete!
Main picture of Semenya courtesy of ROGER SEDRES/IMAGE SA