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)