Prudence and Akani light up the athletics weekend with world leads

By Karien Jonckheere

Both Prudence Sekgodiso and Akani Simbine produced world-leading performances over the weekend, laying down important markers in the build-up to the Paris Olympics.

Competing in her first international race of the season, Sekgodiso ran a spectacularly timed 800m at the Diamond League meet in Marrakech on Sunday night to finish in a new personal best time of 1:57.26 which was also the fastest time in the world this year. The previous best of 1:57.56 had been set by Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi just a day earlier.

“I didn’t expect to run so fast,” admitted the 22-year-old afterwards. “Winning was in my mind but not with such a fast time. It’s crazy fast. I am so proud of myself tonight.

“Achieving a world lead and a personal best is just amazing. But I cannot say that this performance will change something for me in terms of goals and expectations. For the Paris Olympics, I will try to reach the final. I want to be in the big eight.”

Sekgodiso confirmed her next race will be in Nancy, France on 25 May before heading to the Diamond League meet in Stockholm on 2 June.

Meanwhile, over in the USA, Simbine stormed to victory in the 100m at the Adidas Atlanta City Games in a sizzlingly quick 9.90 seconds. That saw him getting the better of continental rival Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya, who was second in 10.00. Simbine’s time not only makes him the quickest in the world so far this year but also means he has now completed a full decade of running sub-10 second times each year.

Asked if his performance puts him in the conversation regarding being the king of African sprinters, Simbine simply smiled and said: “I’ve always been part of the conversation, I never left.”

As for his ambitions this season, the 30-year-old added: “I need to get my position on the [Olympic] podium so that’s what we’re working towards and I’m focused towards that.

“South Africa is making a lot of noise in the sprints,” he added.

“There’s a lot of us, not just from South Africa but the southern region of Africa… the youth that’s coming out are really great and I’m excited to be part of the Games still and be racing against these young kids so ja, I’m looking forward to it and hoping to stay on top.”

Akani, Wayde and Tatjana head Team SA as first batch of Olympic athletes announced

By Karien Jonckheere

Akani Simbine, Tatjana Smith and Wayde van Niekerk were all among the 39 athletes who officially had their tickets to Paris confirmed for later this year when the first Olympic team announcement was made by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SASCOC) in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Teams were announced across seven sporting codes, with two more official announcements to come in the next two months.

The athletics team is far from complete with the qualification period still open and those athletes booking their tickets via world rankings yet to be finally determined.

Among those at the team announcement on Wednesday was young 400m star Lythe Pillay, who has just returned from helping the South Africa 4x400m quartet to a silver medal at the recent World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas.

“It’s really exciting. It’s still a bit surreal,” he said of making the Olympic team. “I’m really process orientated. I’m always just fixated on training and doing what I have to do. I very seldom take time to sit back and really acknowledge what has just happened and what I’ve achieved… it’s given me more of a sense of motivation to progress and keep pushing.”

Also thrilled to have booked her trip to Paris was Cian Oldknow who is one of three women, along with Gerda Steyn and Irvette van Zyl, to have qualified in the marathon.

“Until it’s official, it’s always a bit like – ooh, are we actually going? So I think now it’s starting to sink in that I really made the team,” she said. “I’m very excited… I can’t wait for what’s coming. I’m so excited to be on the start line with all my role models.”

Meanwhile, heading the swimming team is Tokyo gold and silver medallist Tatjana Smith who will be looking to defend her 200m breaststroke title in the French capital.

 “It’s definitely nice to know it’s official,” she said after the announcement. “This is my second time going but it doesn’t make it any less exciting than the first time so I’m very excited.

“I’m feeling very motivated because you know you’re so close to the end – as in Paris, the thing that you’ve been working towards for so long. That definitely keeps you encouraged because you know there’s only about nine weeks left so that helps a lot.”

Others in the swimming team include the likes of SA’s most successful Olympian Chad le Clos, world championship medallist Pieter Coetzé and Commonwealth Games medallists Erin Gallagher and Kaylene Corbett.

The other sporting codes to have their teams announced were canoeing, climbing, gymnastics, surfing and wrestling.

Meanwhile, SASCOC announced the cash incentives that are up for grabs to South Africans who win medals in Paris. R400,000 will be awarded to gold medallists with R100,000 going to their coaches, R200 000 for silver medallists (with R50k for coaches) and R75 000 for bronze medals (R25k for coaches).

SA Olympic team so far:

AQUATICS

Men: Pieter Coetzé (100m, 200m backstroke), Chad le Clos (100m butterfly), Matthew Sates (100m, 200m butterfly and 200m IM)

Women: Aimee Canny (200m freestyle), Kaylene Corbett (200m breaststroke), Erin Gallagher (100m butterfly), Rebecca Meder (200m IM), Tatjana Smith (100m, 200m breaststroke), Julia Vincent (diving, 3m springboard)

ATHLETICS

Men: Luxolo Adams (200m), Stephen Mokoka (marathon), Zakhiti Nene (400m), Lythe Pillay (400m), Benjamin Richardson (200m), Akani Simbine (100m), Tshepo Tshite (1500m), Wayde van Niekerk (400m), Jovan van Vuuren (long jump), Adriaan Wildschutt (5000m, 10000m).

Women: Marione Fourie (100mH), Zeney Geldenhuys (400mH), Rogail Joseph (400mH), Cian Oldknow (marathon), Prudence Sekgodiso (800m), Gerda Steyn (marathon), Irvette van Zyl (marathon)

CANOEING

Men: Andrew Birkett (kayak sprint), Hamish Lovemore (kayak sprint)

Women: Tiffany Koch (kayak sprint), Esti Olivier (kayak sprint)

Management: Nkosi Mzolo (coach), Janet Simpkins (manager)

GYMNASTICS

Women: Caitlin Rooskrantz (artistic)

Management: Ilse Pelser (coach)

SPORT CLIMBING

Men: Joshua Bruyns (speed climbing), Mel Janse van Rensburg (lead & boulder)

Women: Aniya Holder (speed climbing), Lauren Mukheiber (lead & boulder)

Management: Dean Bruyns (manager), John-David Muller (official coach)

SURFING

Men: Matthew McGillivray, Jordy Smith

Women: Sarah Ann Baum

Management: Christopher Bond (coach), Rezar De Nicker (coach, manager)

WRESTLING

Men: Steyn de Lange (92kg), Marias Hattingh (training partner, 79kg)

Management: Jan Roets (coach)

 

Akani takes sixth SA 100m title as women’s 400m hurdles produces two Olympic qualifiers

The women’s 400m hurdles provided one of the highlights of day two of the SA Athletics Championships in Pietermaritzburg on Friday.

Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Zeney Geldenhuys was pushed all the way to the final hurdle by Rogail Joseph, just pulling away in the final metres to take her fourth national title in a time of 54.72 seconds with Joseph second in 54.84. Both times were below the automatic qualification mark for the Olympic Games later this year in Paris.

Claiming the bronze medal was 16-year-old star Tumi Ramokgopa who set a new South African youth record with a time of 57.04.

Geldenhuys said afterwards she was pleased to be pushed by her young rivals.

“You can’t always just go into a race and think I’m going to run and win by 100 metres so it is very exciting to know that there are girls pushing me because without them it’s difficult to run great times,” she said.

“I’m ecstatic [about the time] and I’m truly blessed to know I could run the Olympic qualifying time… but from here it’s much harder work to get the times done because if I want to run a final [at the Olympics] it need to be a 53.”

Joseph reckoned: “It was a really tough race and I’m really proud of myself because it’s the first time I was so close to the winner at SA Seniors, so I can see I’m on the right road and I’m so excited to see what more is in store for me.”

Meanwhile, Lindukuhle Gora was thrilled to get his hands on a first senior national title, winning the men’s 400m hurdles in 49.45 seconds.

Also claiming her first senior title was teenage sprinter Viwe Jingqi. The 19-year-old blitzed to the women’s 100m title in a time of 11.23, just one hundredth of a second off her PB.

“Fantastic! I thought it went great. I don’t know how to explain it but as you can see, the smile and how I’m talking… everything went well,” said a thrilled Jingqi afterwards.

While it was a first for Jingqi, it was title number six for Akani Simbine in the men’s 100m. The SA record holder powered to victory in a time of 10.01 seconds, holding off teenagers Bayanda Walaza (10.27) and Bradley Nkoana (10.29) for the gold.

“I’m just also happy to retain my title,” said Simbine, who admitted he was targeting a sub-10 second time but was unsure of the cool, slightly breezy conditions.

“For us it was trying to finish off on a sub-10 but I’m happy with a 10.01 – I can’t complain about that, I can’t complain about finishing the race healthy and now that sets me up for my next race in China next week,” he said.

Earlier in the day, 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk ran the opening race of his campaign of the SA Championships, finishing first in his 200m heat in a time of 20.57 seconds.

“It was comfortable. It felt a little bit rusty in some areas of the race, but I think once you get your legs exposed to that, those things start freeing up and the fact that I ran quite a solid time, feeling the way I did, hopefully the next two will be better,” he said afterwards.

“I think [nerves are] always there. Nerves are something that’s part of the game I guess. My wife told me – if I feel this way, how do the rest fo the guys feel? So I’m trying to use that mentally in my head. But we all have a bit of nerves, a bit of restlessness because we want to do well and be competitive so it’s very much part of the game. It’s really just about managing it and putting your best foot forward.

In other events on Friday, Cheswill Johnson claimed the men’s long jump title with a leap of 8.22m, while Brian Raats cleared 2.25m to take gold in the men’s high jump on countback.

 

Tebogo dominates again as SA mixed relay team set new national record

By Karien Jonckheere

Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo once again provided the highlight of the night at the third and final ASA Grand Prix meet in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old blitzed to the fastest time in the world this year over 200m, powering to the finish in 19.94 seconds to eclipse the early-season time of 20.17 seconds that Jamaican Oblique Seville ran in Kingston 12 days ago.

“After we ran that 44.2 [in the 400m last week] we didn’t have enough time to train, so we were just resting and then just warming up and stretching. Producing this 19.9, it shows that everything is falling into the right track,” said Tebogo afterwards.

Lining up in the same race was two-time Olympic 100m finalist Akani Simbine, making a rare appearance over the longer distance. While he finished second to Tebogo in 20.32 seconds, he was pleased with the form he showed in a race he seldom runs.

“I’m happy with the performance, happy with the race. Very conservative actually, but happy with how I ran the 200,” said Simbine afterwards. “I didn’t actually have any expectations because I haven’t run a 200 in years.

“So for me it was just come out here and just run, something which to us actually was just a training run, and see where we’re at with training… So happy with it, happy where I finished, healthy and looking forward to the season.”

In Simbine’s absence in the shorter sprint, long jumper Cheswill Johnson ran the fastest 100m time of the night, winning the first final in a time of 10.18 seconds while Tamzin Thomas won the women’s 100m in 11.48.

The South African team of Gardeo Isaacs, Amy Naude, Zakithi Nene and Zeney Geldenhuis ensured the evening ended off on a high, setting a new national record in the mixed 4x400m relay. The quartet finished in a time of 3:14.97 to get the better of Kenya and Botswana and improve on the previous national record that was set by the SA team at the African Games in Ghana just over a week ago.

“This was tricky because I also had a 400 earlier [in the pre-programme] that I also ran but… it was a good team effort, national record, qualify for world relays, then it’s a good day,” said Nene afterwards.

“It feels great, the 4×400 mixed is still a new event for us,” added Geldenhuis. “Last week in Ghana they broke the SA record and then tonight we broke it again. We’re very happy about that because we’re taking it step by step and the team gets stronger.”

Munyai keeps eyes on the prize as he targets third Olympics

By Karien Jonckheere

Clarence Munyai may not have the Olympic qualifying time for the 200m in the bag just yet, but he’s confident it will come.

The former national champion ran 20.91 seconds for fourth place at the second ASA Grand Prix meet in Pretoria this week, some way off the 20.16 required, but the season has just started. And with 50 per cent of athletes qualifying for Paris through world rankings, Munyai finds himself safely within that quota for now.

“Yes, I still have to get the qualifying time, but I’m confident I’ll get it,” reckoned Munyai.

“One thing about sport that I like is you always have the next week, like you have a competition this week, then you have a competition next week. So obviously some competitions you do well, some you don’t do too well, and obviously as an athlete you learn how to pick yourself up and go to the next one,” he added.

It’s hard to believe that at just 26 years old, Munyai is gunning for his third Olympic Games, having burst onto the scene as a teenager and setting the current SA 200m record of 19.68 seconds when he had just turned 20.

For the past three years, he’s trained alongside SA 100m record holder Akani Simbine, under the watchful eye of coach Werner Prinsloo.

“He’s a really nice training partner,” Munyai said of Simbine.

“I learned a lot from him. I have my strengths, and he has his strengths, we kind of rub off on each other, and it’s nice to run with someone like him because you push each other in sessions.

“At the end of the day, that one big goal that we’re all working towards, I feel like as an athlete you need someone that has that motivation as well. I feel like it’s really good and it pushes both of us.”

Being confident in his training, Munyai can look ahead to what he would like to achieve in Paris later this year. He reached the semifinal of the 200m at the last Olympics in Tokyo but is now ready for the next step.

“Making the final, and obviously in the final anything can happen because we’ll have eight lanes and then everyone has the same opportunity. So it’s about putting the race together and executing, then everything should go to plan,” he said.

With several months to go before then, however, he pointed out: “Everything’s on track. I feel really strong, I feel fast in training, and obviously now it’s just about putting it together in a race, so that’s what I’m looking forward to. I just want to race and am looking forward to all the races now.”

Road To Redemption: Simbine sets sights on Paris

By Karien Jonckheere

After shaking off a disappointing end to last season, which had started so promisingly but ended with a false start in the 100m semifinal and a dropped baton at the World Athletics Championships, Akani Simbine is only looking forward.

Forward to next month’s National Championships and then on to the Olympic Games in Paris. He’s now a married man, feeling settled and revved up for the season ahead.

“I’m feeling good, it’s been a good start to the year, a good start to the season. I’m healthy, training is going really well, I had my first off-season race with the 150 which went well, and everything is just going according to plan right now,” he explained, referring to the new SA record he set in the rarely run 150m at the Simbine Curro Classic Shootout in Pretoria last month.

“That was very important because I think coming from my last race, which was the DQ at world champs, it was a confidence booster and also getting that tick in your mind saying that OK, you know what, I can still do this, I’ve still got that competitive edge, I’m still hungry to compete,” added the 30-year-old.

“We’re building up to SAs now, making sure that I run well there, retain my title there, and get on to the rest of the year. I’m looking forward to it, confident for the season, confident for the year.”

Simbine has described the Olympic year ahead as one in which he and his coach Werner Prinsloo are taking care of unfinished business.

“Paris is a race and a place where I’m looking forward to running. For Coach and I it’s also kind of like a redemption road where we had everything ticked off last year and the false start happened. So now this year it’s about coming back and just keeping on working and doing everything that we need to do to make sure we’re ready to race.

“It’s just another race at the end of the day… It’s just the title that changes and I need to get that in my head and to accept that and enjoy it and give my all,” added the two-time Olympic finalist who has earned a reputation as one of the gentlemen of the sport.

Perhaps what keeps him so grounded is his mission to give back through his company Back Sports, which aims to provide a platform for younger athletes to excel – not only in the sport itself by broadcasting their exploits but also by getting them involved behind the scenes in the TV production.

“We’re giving the students an opportunity to learn production, to learn how to shoot, how to do media and just giving them that skill… So we pay them a salary, and then you’re allowed to go train, go to championships.

“For us it’s literally empowering them in those ways, just changing lives, and just making a small impact where we can. We’ve been blessed with an opportunity with Supersport schools to spread our wings and shoot the sporting events and empower more kids and have more reach. I think we have teams all over the country and that’s close to 100 kids that we are changing lives for, that’s 100 families that we’re changing lives for and impacting. And for me, if we’re doing that, I’m happy.”

SA’s Relay Woes Continue as Duplantis Soars Again

South Africa’s last shot at a medal on the track at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest went up in smoke as the men’s 4x100m relay team failed to complete their race in the showpiece final on Saturday night. There was a distinct sense of déjà vu, as a similar dropped baton scenario as the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 played out on the back stretch of the track.

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This time it was the second changeover between Benjamin Richardson and Clarence Munyai that proved to be the problem, as Akani Simbine stood waiting on the home straight for the baton that never arrived. Explaining what happened, Munyai said: “It’s not nice obviously because we did quite well yesterday [in the heats], and coming into today, we were looking forward to competing.”

“Obviously, it’s my mistake, because I’m the senior guy and the change wasn’t good – he missed my hand, as my hand was moving. I was looking forward, so I didn’t see at the back, but I take the blame, it’s one of those things where it happens in sport, but you just have to bounce back and hopefully the next one we can put it together.”

Both the men’s and women’s 4x100m relay titles were won by the USA, with Noah Lyles anchoring the US men home and claiming a third gold medal to go with his winning efforts in the 100m and 200m finals. In the women’s team, Sha’Carrie Richardson added a second gold to her haul, having won the 100m and finished third in the 200m.

Earlier in the day, Irvette van Zyl “survived” the blisteringly hot conditions to finish the marathon in her first World Championship appearance. She crossed the line in 2:38:32, thus securing 45th place out of 77 starters. Having failed to finish two Olympic marathons and not even making the start of the third that she was supposed to compete in because of injury, just reaching the finish in Budapest was Van Zyl’s main mission on Saturday.

“It was just proving to myself today that I can,” she said after the race, which was won by Ethiopia’s Amane Beriso in 2:24:23. “I knew I wasn’t in the shape I wanted to be, but I just wanted to show to myself if I pitch up injury-free, I can cross the finish line. It was a bit of torture on the route, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a beautiful route, and overall I’m really pleased… I don’t think I had a plan today apart from survive and finish.”

Ischke Senekal’s best second-round throw of 16.20m in qualification was not enough to see her through to the women’s shot put final after finishing 32nd overall.

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the day’s action was Mondo Duplantis winning the men’s pole vault, retaining the World Champs title he won in 2022 in the USA. He is thus still the reigning Olympic, World and World Indoor Champion. Having won the competition on the night in Budapest with a winning height of 6.10m, he asked the officials to push the bar up to 6.23m, so that he could try to improve his own World Record. His next three jumps saw him come very close to rewriting the record books yet again, but for now his World Outdoor Record of 6:21m and his World Indoor Record of 6.22m remain the highest marks jumped to date.

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Relay team keep Simbine’s world champs medal hopes alive

South Africa’s 4x100m relay team ensured Akani Simbine will have another shot at a medal at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest after being disqualified from his 100m semifinal. The quartet of Shaun Maswanganyi, Benjamin Richardson, Clarence Munyai, and Simbine produced a slick performance to finish second in their heat in 37.72 and book a place in Saturday night’s final.

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Speaking afterwards, Simbine said: “It was good. It feels good to run, it feels good to race, it feels good to be able to be on the track again… I’m happy, happy for the guys, happy for the team, and excited for tomorrow.”

This was Munyai’s first performance at these World Championships, having skipped the individual events. The SA 200m record holder said afterwards: “I was quite excited to be honest because they’ve been running and I also wanted to get out there and come compete. For me it was more excitement than nerves so I’m quite happy.

“We did quite well as a team, we executed and we all ran our legs quite well. We came out here and we wanted to qualify for the final and put a solid time out there… It was good [baton] changes throughout and as a team we trusted each other and I think we did a good job.”

There was disappointment for Prudence Sekgodiso later in the evening in the 800m semifinals. The 21-year-old looked to be in the perfect position to make a move, but around the 450m mark, she clipped the heels of the runner in front of her and fell to the track and out of contention. She nevertheless managed to pick herself up and finish the race.

In the women’s javelin final, Jo-Ané fell short of her own expectation, her best on the night was a third-round throw of 57.43m to finish in 10th place.

“For me, it was just amazing to be in the final. It was great, it was really what I planned to come and do here but I’m a little disappointed with how I performed. I think there’s a lot more that I could have done but on the day I didn’t do what I could. I had a little problem with my rhythm in the first and second throws so it just wasn’t my day today but it was a great competition and always good to get the experience of being on the world stage.”

Earlier in the day, fellow javelin thrower Douw Smit’s best effort was 75.03m in qualification was not enough to see him through to the final.

 

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Agony for Simbine while Van Niekerk secures semifinal spot

There was more major championship heartbreak for Akani Simbine after he was disqualified from the 100m semifinals at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary on Sunday for a false start.

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“I’m disappointed. I’ve never false started on the circuit, never false started at a championship, so I’m just very disappointed,” said a devastated Simbine. “I just know that I moved when the gun said go, because I’m generally a slow starter. But it is what it is.”

In Simbine’s absence in the evening final, it was Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo who brought glory to Southern Africa. The 20-year-old star stormed to a silver medal in a national record time of 9.88 behind American Noah Lyles who took gold in 9.83.

Earlier in the day Wayde van Niekerk cruised to victory in his opening 400m heat in a time of 44.57 to qualify for the semifinals. Zakithi Nene made a blunder at the end of his race to allow two athletes in front of him at the finish to deny him automatic qualification. His time of 44.88 was enough to see him safely through to the semifinals as one of the fastest losers, however.

Speaking after the race, Van Niekerk said: “The heats and the semifinals are about surviving so I had to read my competitors and gauge off of them. That’s what I did in the heats and I think it should be a similar strategy in the semis and then in the final we’ll give it what we’ve got left.”

Nene reckoned he would learn from his mistakes, saying: “I judged the race well to about 300 or 320m, and I thought the race was over then before it was even over. So that’s on me, poor judgement of the race but I’ll fix it in the semi.”

Also through to the women’s 400m semifinals was Zeney van der Walt, who is doubling up at these championships – also competing in the 400m hurdles. The Commonwealth Games bronze medallist finished third in her 400m heat in 51.76 to book a spot in Monday’s semifinals. She’ll also be contesting the 400m hurdles heats on Monday, with just over two hours to recover between the two races.

“It feels really great, it feels amazing to advance to the semifinals and I’m very excited,” said Van der Walt. “My coach and I decided to do both events this year to take the challenge and to see how my body can manage it and to use it as a stepping stone here.”

Our team on the ground at Budapest have been interviewing all South African athletes after their respective events. To get an inside view into strategy and their thoughts on their performances, click the button below to see for yourself what it takes to compete on a world stage!


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Simbine and Tshite secure semifinal spots while throwers fall short

Akani Simbine got his World Championships campaign off to a speedy start in Budapest, Hungary on Saturday night, winning his 100m heat in a time of 9.97 seconds. The two-time Olympic finalist is bidding to break his major championship medal drought and become the first African athlete to claim the world title.

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Fellow South African Benjamin Richardson just missed out on reaching the semifinals by a few thousandths of a second. Only the top three in each heat and the three fastest losers progressed. The 19-year-old finished fourth in his heat in 10.17 but two other athletes, Nigerian Usheoritse Itsekiri and Iran’s Hassan Taftian also recorded times of 10.17. When taking the thousands of a second into account, it was Itsekiri who progressed.

“I’m really happy to get that first run out the way, get the win out the way, and just feeling the track,” said Simbine afterwards. “It’s my first time inside the stadium today. Just running and winning and trusting my running pattern, and trusting how I race, and trusting the shape that I’m in, you know it’s paying off.” 

Speaking about South Africa’s chances in the 4x100m relay, Simbine added: “The relay really looks good, everybody must just stay healthy. Benji [Richardson] is young, you know he’s got a good career ahead, he’s going to have a good career like this. I’m looking forward to the relay, looking forward to fighting for the medal that’s also been missing for the longest time, so we shall see.”

Earlier in the evening Tshepo Tshite qualified for the semifinals of the 1500m after finishing second in the slowest heat of the night in 3:46.79. While Ryan Mphahlele ran a much quicker time of 3:39.16 in his heat to finish 10th, new World Athletics rules for the longer distances meant he missed out as only the top six in each heat progressed to the next round.

“The race was tactical but remember, this year the criteria have changed. It’s not all about how fast you run, it’s all about making sure that you’re in the top six. I think that was the reason the race was tactical,” explained Tshite.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s throwers struggled on Saturday with Olympic finalist Kyle Blignaut (18.82m) and Burger Lamprechts (19.52m) failing to qualify for the shot put final while Victor Hogan fell short in discus qualification, his 61.80m effort seeing him finishing in 27th place.

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