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SA athletes shine with five medals at Diamond League
- Updated: June 3, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
Three gold and two silver medals… not a bad night’s work at South African athletes shone at the Rome leg of the IAAF Diamond League on Thursday night.
Wenda Nel was first in action with a silver and season’s best 54.61sec in the women’s 400-metre hurdles and then it was a quick fire double gold return as Van Niekerk and Semenya both dominated the 400 and 800m respectively. Nel’s finish seems to have improved markedly and she looked to have more power down the finishing straight than has sometimes been the case.
‘Yes, we’re satisfied with that race,’ Nel’s coach, Irma Reyneke told Road to Rio 2016 on Friday morning. ‘She started a bit slower as planned so she could end stronger and it got her a good season’s best.
‘Her average time from her four races is now in the 54sec bracket and that’s fantastic.
‘The more constantly she can run the better because then sooner or later that ‘Wenda Wow’ race is going to pop out.’
Van Niekerk, who has already been in impressive early season form, won in 44.19 seconds, a season’s best, and visibly eased up over the last 15m or so … plenty in the tank as he has bigger fish to fry this year.
While Grenada’s Kerani James has been one of his big rivals over the last few seasons, it was another Grenada athlete who raced him to the finish in Rome, Bralon Taplin, who took the runners-up spot in 44.43.
Just as Van Niekerk will be the man to beat at the Rio Olympics later this year, Caster Semenya laid down another marker with a comprehensive victory in the women’s two-lapper.
A different athlete to that of the last two seasons, Semenya equalled her world-leading time of 1:56.65 with her customary acceleration over the last 100m to blast Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba out of contention (1:58.20).
Right now she looks something of a banker in Team South Africa’s hunt for medals at the Rio Olympics.
The rainbow nation’s third gold medal came from two-time Commonwealth Games champion Sunette Viljoen, while not truly on top of her game on the night, still did enough to take the win with a best hurled of 61.95m, just three centimetres further than Latvia’s Madara Palameika.
The other SA silver medal went to big Victor Hogan, the Kleinmond based athlete’s fifth throw in the discus landing at 64.03m and giving growing emphasis to the resurgence of not only SA track events but field events as well.
‘I’m still feeling in good shape, and although it was a strange competition last night, I’ll take it any day!’ he told Road to Rio 2016. ‘No-one was throwing far, but I knew its about placing at this type of meet.
‘So now I’m on my way back home to train with Oom Kaai [Preller], and prepare for African Champs, then maybe Monaco Diamond League on 15 July and then prepare for Olympics.’
Consistency and regular podium places are clearly doing the job for Hogan. ‘Yeah it feels great and I still feel there a big throw coming soon, praise the Lord.’
In the long jump, South Africa had two competitors. National champion Ruswahl Samaai took fourth with 8.16m someway off his 8.38 season’s best while Luvo Manyonga in his first international competition for five years was good for seventh in 8.03m.
The ‘worst’ (if you can call it that!) finish for South Africa was a fifth spot by speedster Akani Simbini in the 100m with a 10.13sec clocking as Justin Gatlin impressed with a 9.93 win.
Simbine though, was running his first race since injuring a hamstring as he ended up runner-up to Henricho Bruintjies at nationals in Stellenbosch two months ago.
South Africa’s success was a far cry from last year’s Rome Diamond League which saw just two South Africans in action as Simbine ran sixth in the 100m (10.08) and Rocco van Rooyen took seventh in the men’s javelin.
Picture of Semenya winning on Thursday night courtesy of Getty Images