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.”

SA champs wraps up with four new automatic qualifiers for Paris Olympics

The SA Athletics Championships came to an end in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday with four athletes having added their names to the list of automatic qualifiers for the Olympic Games later this year. They were Zeney Geldenhuys and Rogail Joseph in the 400m hurdles, Benjamin Richardson in the 200m and Lythe Pillay in the 400m, while Zakithi Nene achieved his second qualifying time over 400m at these championships.

The final day’s action saw Marione Fourie claiming a fourth straight national title in the 100m hurdles, winning in a time of 13.01 seconds with Kayla van der Bergh second in 13.40 and former SA record holder Taylon Bieldt third in 13.46.

Fourie admitted afterwards: “Before the race, my brain didn’t want to get the steps in before the first hurdle so I was a little bit stressed but the time wasn’t too bad for my second race [of the season].”

Eight-time champion in the 110m hurdles Antonio Alkana withdrew from the final after overstretching his calf muscle in the warm-up. In his absence, SW Nel claimed his first ever title in 13.73 seconds, so emulating his father and coach, Wimpie, who won the SA title twice, in 1992 and 1993.

“It feels amazing. I didn’t expect it at all. All the hard work is paying off so I’m glad. I have a good coach who I trust so I’m very happy at the moment,” said Nel junior afterwards.

As for being coached by his dad, he joked: “It’s a bit of a pain in the butt because he says: ‘My time was faster,’ or ‘I did it twice.’ So I have to win it two times more and beat his time so I’m almost on his level.”

Speaking about Alkana withdrawing from the final, Nel added: “I was a bit disappointed. If he had run, I think I would have run a better time but I’m happy with the position.”

Also thrilled was his proud dad: “Words can’t describe it. It’s a very humbling feeling,” he beamed.

Meanwhile, after her second place in the 5000m earlier in the competition, Prudence Sekgodiso comfortably defended her 1500m title, pulling away from the pack just before the bell, and cruising to victory in a time of 4:13.09. Charne Swart was second in 4:16.89 and Carina Viljoen third in 4:19.29.

“The race was something else. I have a calf problem, I felt it in the 5k and I wanted to come out in the 5k but I thought – let me just finish it – but the 1500 is my event so I had to show who I am and chase for that gold medal and that’s what I did. It was nice,” she said.

“I regret running that 5k to be honest. Honestly, that was my last,” added Sekgodiso who has set her sights on breaking the SA 1500m record.

Jerry Motsau had a tougher fight on his hands to claim the men’s 1500m title 10 years after winning his first. He fended off his challengers in the final 200m finishing in 3:38.82 with Nkosinathi Sibiya second in 3:39.02 and Niel van der Merwe third in 3:39.78.

“It was a bit of a challenge but if you’re strong in your head, you pull through. I told myself I mustn’t give up, I should run through the tape, so that’s what I did,” he said.

In the field events, Kyle Blignaut defended his shot put title with a best throw of 20.36m, while Mire Reinstorf took women’s pole vault gold with a clearance of 4.15m.

 

Tebogo, Haingura and Sekgodiso light up the track at second ASA Grand Prix

By Karien Jonckheere

Botswana’s athletes stole the show at the second ASA Grand Prix meet of the season in Pretoria on Monday night.

Better known for his exploits over 100 and 200m, having medalled in both events at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year, Letsile Tebogo looked right at home in the 400m. The 20-year-old stormed to a comfortable victory in a new personal best of 44.29 seconds, so also securing Olympic qualification in the event.

Tebogo gave a hint of what he could do in the longer distance when he set a new world best of 30.69 seconds over 300m at the Simbine Curro Classic Shootout in Pretoria last month.

With his sights set firmly on the podium at Paris 2024, Tebogo told SuperSport: “No human is limited so you have to do everything that it takes.

“For us coming here it was just to check how the body was going to respond because we’ve been doing a lot of gym so you can see how the body runs and if I will get tired along the way.

As for what comes next, the world junior record holder over 100m added: “The plan for now, I think we’re going to rest for a week or two because it shows that the speed is there… the other plan for the Diamond Leagues is just to run and get used to them so that we cannot be scared when we meet in Paris at the Olympics.”

Earlier in the evening, Tebogo’s compatriot, Hethobogile Haingura claimed an Olympic qualifying time of his own in the men’s 800m.

A man on a mission to get to Paris, Haingura took to the front immediately and completed the two-lap event in 1:43.94, well under the required time, and also slicing a second and a half off his PB in the process.

The man from Botswana probably didn’t realise it at the time, but he had run the fastest ever 800m time on South African soil. The previous mark of 1:44.57 set back in 1996 in Cape Town belonged to Marius van Heerden, who sadly died of Covid in January 2021.

As Haingura collapsed to the track after his race, he was embraced by his elated training partner, Prudence Sekgodiso, who also produced an impressive performance in the women’s 800m on Monday night, dipping under the two-minute mark once again to take the win in 1:59.93. The 22-year-old South African set a new personal best of 1 minute 58.05 over 800m just a few weeks ago in Pretoria to also book her ticket to Paris.

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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SA’s 200m trio book semifinal spots as Fourie misses final

Marioné Fourie was the only South African athlete in action in the evening session at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Wednesday. The 21-year-old finished sixth in her 100m semifinal in 12.89 seconds, so missing out on Thursday’s final. She admitted afterwards that she had lost focus before the race.

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“It wasn’t a good race. Yesterday was a better race than today. But it’s OK, I will come back next year to the Olympics and I will make sure I will make the final… I don’t think the whole focus was there, so maybe a little bit tired, but I think the execution wasn’t that great also, so it wasn’t a good race.”

Wednesday night’s session was highlighted by Karsten Warholm’s dominant victory in the 400m hurdles. The Norwegian sailed to the gold in a time of 46.89 to add the world title to his Olympic title claimed in Tokyo in 2021. It also meant he regained the title he last won in 2019.

Meanwhile, in a busy morning session, all three of South Africa’s 200m runners made it safely into the semifinals by finishing third in their respective heats. 2022 World Championships finalist Luxolo Adams was first up, finishing in a time of 20.15 with Shaun Maswanganyi then finishing in 20.56 and Sinesipho Dambile in 20.34.

“I’m feeling great now. I’m 100 percent back and I guess that’s one of the things that are keeping me positive and remaining healthy,” said Adams, who injured his hamstring at the SA Championships in April. “The atmosphere is amazing and the track is fast so that gives me a bit of positivity going forward again.”

Dambile was thrilled his compatriots had also made it through, saying: “That’s big, that’s big, that’s big. I’m happy for them, so we have to just find a way to make it through to the final, and I think it’s possible you know I know.”

It was also a successful morning for Prudence Sekgodiso. The 21-year-old finished second in her heat in 1:59.72 to book a spot in Friday’s 800m semifinals.

“The race went according to the plan. The plan was to be in the top three and just to follow Keely [Hodgkinson] and I did it. Now I get ready for the semifinals, anything can happen but I’m ready for anything. I’m like them why must I fear them, I’m all good,” she said afterwards.

“I was worried when I was boxed in but you know what, I just went with the flow and you see, I came second. Going to the semifinals for the second time at my second world champs, I’m just over the moon.”

Jo-Ane van Dyk’s third-round effort of 60.09m in javelin qualification was enough to see her through to Friday’s final but both Kyle Rademeyer (5.70m in the pole vault) and Cheswill Johnson (7.61m in the long jump) missed out.

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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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