From spectator to potential Olympian: Wayde’s sister Kayla is poised for Paris

By Karien Jonckheere

Kayla Swarts was just 13 years old when she sat trackside as her brother, Wayde van Niekerk, stormed to a new 400m world record on his way to Olympic gold in Rio.

Little could she imagine that eight years later she’d be on the brink of becoming an Olympian herself as part of the South African women’s hockey team.

The final squad for the Paris Games is yet to be announced but the 21-year-old is very much in the mix for selection.

“It would honestly be a dream come true, to represent my country and family at the biggest sporting event in history,” Swarts told Modern Athlete. “The fact that I’ll be sharing this moment with my brother would just make it so much more special.

“Thinking back to the moment of watching him in Rio set the 400m world record and seeing the joy on his and my parents’ faces and what that made me feel made me realise that this is a moment that I’d strive to experience one day,” she added.

Speaking more about that moment in Rio when Van Niekerk stunned his rivals from lane eight by taking the gold in 43.03 seconds, Swarts added: “When my brother broke the record I was in the stadium right across the finish line. The moment felt so surreal. I kept watching the clock because he just kept going faster and faster. I thought: is my brother really about to break the record? We were all so proud of him.”

While Van Niekerk will be back on the track at the Stade de France in Paris, looking to complete a triumphant comeback after a tough few years, Swarts will hopefully be making her mark at the Yves du Manoir hockey stadium some 10km away.

Preparations with the team are on track, with the South Africans feeling positive about the mammoth task ahead. “We’ve just spent six weeks training and playing a few practice matches in India and China. This period has been a massive step in the right direction for the team, not only physically but mentally as well.

“We spent a lot of time working with Kate Wright, a sport psychologist, to focus on individual and team strengths and culture which is something I think will be a huge asset for us at the Olympic Games.”

Van Niekerk has also shared a fair bit of advice with his younger sister.

“My brother always emphasises enjoying the sport, finding the joy and beauty in every opportunity I get to represent my country because your sporting career is limited.

“He also advises me to be present and not get stuck on what didn’t work out. The way we see it is that there is no failure in sport – some days it’s your turn to win, some days it’s someone else’s turn, that’s sport. Losing is simply just a building block towards success, it’s an opportunity to evaluate where you can be better and learn from that.

“He’s played an integral role in helping me prepare physically and mentally for the Olympics… Competing at the highest level can often get lonely and hard but knowing that I’ve got someone in my corner who’s overcoming similar obstacles and battles, who’s already been to two Olympic Games and shares advice is truly a blessing and not something many people are privileged to have.”

The SA side will come up against Australia, Argentina, Great Britain, Spain and the United States in the group stage of the Olympic hockey tournament in Paris which runs from 27 July to 9 August.

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)

 

Young gun Benjamin outshines Wayde van Niekerk on sizzling day at SA champs

Benjamin Richardson produced the largest upset of the SA Athletics Championships so far by outgunning Wayde van Niekerk to win the 200m title in a steamy Pietermaritzburg on Saturday. By Karien Jonckheere, Picture Cecilia van Bers

Van Niekerk chose to focus his efforts on the 200m event in Maritzburg rather than the 400m, in which he won Olympic gold in 2016 in world record time. But Richardson produced a speedy 20.16-second performance to outshine the veteran and take the title while also securing an Olympic qualifying mark. Van Niekerk settled for silver in 20.31.

“I could have [gone faster] but I’m more happy about the moment and the fact that I did my qualifier,” said a thrilled Richardson. “I was happy in the moment with what I did because it took so much effort and I’m just happy right now.”

As for beating Van Niekerk, the 20-year-old said he remembered the exact date he raced against him for the first time back in 2021.

“It shows that through time, things can change and three years later, I’m now first and so now I’m happy and I’m grateful for everything that’s happened – the trials and tribulations.”

Meanwhile, Lythe Pillay surprised even himself on his way to the 400m title in a new personal best time of 44.31 seconds, with Zakithi Nene also achieving his second Olympic qualifying time in the event, taking silver in 44.80.

“We’re still on cloud nine, or rather on cloud 44 right now, but I’m grateful and blessed,” said an amazed Pillay afterwards.

“Being in a very competitive lineup like that, even with Wayde [van Niekerk] not being present, I knew it was going to be a tough race. I was just here to execute and do what I had to do today.

“The plan was just to go, so from the gun have a good reaction, stay controlled, not spilling energy unnecessarily, sticking to my normal tactics, sticking to my normal strength… and everything clicked today,” added the 21-year-old who will be hoping everything also clicks tomorrow when he is writing an accounting exam.

It was a busy day for Shirley Nekhubui who doubled up in the 200 and 400m, successfully securing both titles on the same day.

Nekhubui claimed the 200m victory in 23.28 and followed that up by edging out defending champion Miranda Coetzee for the 400m title as well, winning in a time of 51.77 seconds.

Nekhubui said afterwards she is till hoping to qualify for the Paris Olympic Games in the 400m and will be aiming to do that in Europe in the coming weeks.

Glenrose Xaba completed a double of her own. She overcame the steamy KZN conditions to add the 10,000m title to the 5000m gold she won on Thursday.

In a race that saw several athletes either collapsing or dropping out, Xaba held on to win in a time of 32:56.29 for her seventh national 10,000m title.

Adriaan Wildschutt took the men’s 5000m title in a time of 13:30.38 to make it a double for the family with his brother Nadeel having claimed the 10,000m title on Thursday.

The SA Athletics Championships conclude tomorrow.

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.

 

Back to the drawing board for dejected Van Niekerk

Wayde van Niekerk showed much promise in the build-up to the World Athletics Championships in Budapest but couldn’t replicate that speed he produced in the last few months when he took to the track for the 400m final on Thursday.

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After just scraping into the final, the world record holder finished in last place in a disappointing 45.11 seconds as Jamaica’s Antonio Watson stormed to gold.

“I ran bad, I ran terrible, we all saw that. The run was well off, I mean I’m a 44 [second] athlete from the get-go of the season so I was wrong, I did not execute my race right. Things didn’t go my way and I’m still processing it all but it was definitely bad,” he said afterward.

Meanwhile, all three of South Africa’s 200m semifinalists missed out on places in Friday night’s final. After an unsettling delay because of a bizarre collision of the golf carts transporting the athletes to the track, Sinesipho Dambile finished fourth in his race in 20.28, Shaun Maswanganyi was seventh in his race in 20.65 and Luxolo Adams was sixth in 20.44.

Despite running a personal best time, Dambile was disappointed with his performance. “I expected much better but I couldn’t get it together. I hope the next race I’m better, but I don’t know, I’m a bit disappointed,” he said afterward.

Adams explained that he had felt dizzy after the golf cart incident and had been rattled by the delay in his race which was switched from first to last of the semifinals. “But I have no room for excuses to come here and tell you guys that, no this happened or whatever. Regardless of what happens, I have to go out there and fight.”

In the morning, the ever-green Wayne Snyman finished 21st in the 35km race walk in a time of 2:35:13.

Having returned from retirement, the 38-year-old said he had only 12 weeks of training for the event.

“Unfortunately, I think I lacked a little bit of training. I would have liked four to six weeks more but it was good. I didn’t stop to pour water on myself this time so that’s good. I’m happy with the race.

“I’m going to have to really sit back and decide why I want to do another Olympics. I have it in my legs, I showed it here – 12 weeks of training and [almost] top-20 – I think that’s really good. Ask me again in a little while. Maybe after I retire I’ll come back again.”

Watch All Our Athlete Interviews!

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!


Watch Day Six Highlights!​

Van Niekerk scrapes into 400m final and Gianmarco Tamberi wins high jump gold

Wayde van Niekerk had South Africans holding their breath as he missed out on automatic qualification for the 400m final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Tuesday.

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The Rio Olympic champion and world record holder finished third in the first of three semifinals, leading to an anxious wait to see if his time of 44.65 was quick enough to see him through to Thursday’s final. In the end, it proved enough, but the 2017 world champion was not happy with his performance.

“Tonight was very disappointing. Obviously not close to what we all know I can do,” he admitted afterwards. “But I live to see another day. I’ve got a day of recovery. The final is a great opportunity for each and every one of us. It’s all about the one who wants it the most, so these next few days I have to get my head right and prove to myself that this is what I want and then we put our best foot forward in the final.”

Gianmarco Tamberi put on a thrilling performance in the Men’s High Jump final, claiming his first World Title. The reigning Olympic champion jumped a height of 2,36 metres to claim the gold medal, with the USA’s JuVaughn Harrison finishing second on countback despite clearing the same height. Mutaz Barshim took the bronze after failing to clear 2,36m, a disappointment as this is the first time he hasn’t been crowned champion at a major championship since finishing second at Rio in 2016.

Zakithi Nene was also disappointed with his performance on the night, finishing sixth in the last of the 400m semifinals, in which two athletes including world leader Steven Gardiner pulled up injured, in 45.64 to miss out on a semifinal spot. “I almost pulled out myself with the tightness of my hammy, but I’m just glad I finished the race healthy and credit to everyone that qualified and went through,” he said afterwards.

Earlier in the evening there was happier news for sprint hurdler Marioné Fourie. The SA record holder finished third in her heat in 12.71 to automatically qualify for Wednesday’s semifinals.

“I was a little bit jittery at the start, I was a little bit nervous,” Fourie explained afterwards. “But I think the execution was OK… I think it was nerves, but the semifinals will definitely be better. I want another SA record.”

Taylon Bieldt missed out on the 100m hurdles semifinals after finishing seventh in her heat in 13.05.

Zeney van der Walt’s gruelling programme at these championships came to an end on Tuesday. Having doubled up with the 400m, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist was back after those semifinals on Monday for the 400m hurdles semifinals on Tuesday night.

She admitted afterwards to being somewhat disappointed with her time of 55.49 for eighth place. “It was tough. I am a bit disappointed with the time. I would have loved it if it was a sub-55 season’s best, PB, but it wasn’t. But I’m still grateful to have been part of the semifinals.”

Karsten Warholm Sets Eyes on Gold

Despite hitting the second hurdle, world record holder Karsten Warholm cruised to victory in his 400m hurdles semifinal at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Monday. He joked afterwards that it was more of a problem for the hurdle than it had been for him – his time on the night a speedy 47.09 seconds. 19-year-old Jamaican Roshawn Clarke was second in a new world junior record of 47.34. Speaking after his semifinal, the Norwegian superstar reckoned: “Surely there is going to be someone who challenges me but today it was very good and I felt strong. The truth is that I ran a bit faster than I wanted to but what can I do when the others are running like hell too? The track can never be too fast.” Warholm will be looking to regain the world title he last won in 2019 in tonight’s final scheduled for 9.50pm.

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!


Watch Day Four Highlights!

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!


Watch Day Two's Highlights

Ed’s World Champs Blog: Personal Highlights – Brought to you by PUMA

So, we’re coming up for day 7 of the World Athletics Champs in Eugene in the USA, and what a Champs it has turned out to be. I’ve seen various colleagues, friends and other fans of track and field on social media talking about goosebumps, and getting emotional, as they’ve watched the action live – even when it required staying up till the early hours of the morning to catch the action live. – BY SEAN FALCONER

There is a nine-hour time difference between SA and Eugene, Oregon, on the West Coast of the USA, so the evening sessions of the World Champs generally start around 2am our time, and continue till 5am or 6am, so I reckon there are a few rather sleep-deprived athletics fans this side of the Atlantic after a week of action.

Yes, there were a few issues with some athletes not able to get to the USA due to VISA issues, but in general, this has been a terrific meet. I’m not even going to try to list all the top performances here, as there have been so many, but I would like to mention some personal highlights that I particularly enjoyed.

  • I take my hat off to Akani Simbine for reaching yet another global 100m final. I know he will be bitterly disappointed to have finished fifth, having also narrowly missed out on a medal at the 2017 World Champs (fifth), 2016 Olympics (fifth), 2019 World Champs (fourth) and 2021 Olympics (fourth), but it shows just how much he has done to raise the bar of men’s sprinting in this country. It wasn’t so long ago that we still didn’t have any sub-10-second runners in this country, and the prospects of a South African making a World Champs or Olympic 100m final was so beyond our wildest dreams. Akani has been a genuine medal contender at every big meet since 2017, and for that alone he deserves huge praise.
  • Staying with the sprints, it has been phenomenal to see the rapid emergence of Luxolo Adams as a world class sprinter this year. He’s been bubbling just under the top level until now, but found his best form just before the World Champs, with his scintillating 19.82 in the Diamond League meet in Paris. Now he is in the men’s 200m final at the World Champs! I don’t think anybody would have predicted that if asked just a few months ago.
  • And of course, at the risk of repeating myself, hasn’t it been fantastic to see Wayde van Niekerk fit and racing again? And even better, back in a global final, where he belongs! That freak knee injury a few years back – in a charitable touch rugby game, of all places – looked like it may have wrecked his career, and many of us wondered if he would ever get back to the shape that saw him win the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World 400m titles, and set that amazing World Record of 43.03 seconds. Even if he doesn’t quite get to that same level as 2016 again – after all, he is six years older now – it remains a privilege to watch him running what is often referred to as the most brutal event on the track.

Anyhoo, enough rambling from me for one blog, let’s look ahead to see what’s coming up next.

Day 7 (21 July) – Afternoon Session

SA Time     US Time     Event                                          Round

02:05          17:05          Men’s Javelin Throw                    Qualification – Group A

02:10          17:10          Women’s 800m                            Heats

03:10          18:10          Men’s 5000m                               Heats

03:20          18:20          Men’s Triple Jump                       Qualification

03:35          18:35          Men’s Javelin Throw                    Qualification – Group B

04:00          19:00          Men’s 800m                                 Semi-Final

04:35          19:35          Women’s 200m                            Final

04:50          19:50          Men’s 200m                                 Final

 

Day 8 (22 July) – Morning Session

SA Time     US Time     Event                                          Round

15:15          06:15          Women’s 35km Race Walk           Final

 

Day 8 (22 July) – Afternoon Session

SA Time     US Time     Event                                          Round

02:05          17:05          Men’s Pole Vault                         Qualification

02:40          17:40          Women’s 4x100m Relay               Heats

03:05          18:05          Men’s 4x100m Relay                    Heats

03:20          18:20          Women’s Javelin Throw               Final

03:35          18:35          Women’s 800m                            Semi-Final

04:15          19:15          Women’s 400m                            Final

04:35          19:35          Men’s 400m                                 Final

04:50          19:50          Women’s 400m Hurdles               Final

 

SOUTH AFRICANS IN ACTION…

Watch for our local heroes in the following events:

 

Day 7 – Afternoon Session

Men’s Javelin Qualifiers

Group A – Johan Grobler

Women’s 800m Qualifiers

Heat 5 – Prudence Sekgodiso

Men’s 5000m Qualifiers

Heat 1 – Adriaan Wildschutt

Heat 2 – Precious Mashele

Men’s 200m Final

Luxolo Adams

 

Day 8 – Afternoon Session

Men’s 400m Final

Wayde van Niekerk

 

Enjoy the viewing, and chat later again.

(Image: courtesy World Athletics)

Ed’s World Champs Blog: Early Ups and Downs – Brought to you by PUMA

It’s been a mixed bag of results for South African athletes in the first three days of the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon in the USA, which began on Friday 15 July. In fact, just getting to the World Champs has been an achievement! – BY SEAN FALCONER

Up until a few days ago, there were still literally hundreds of athletes, officials and members of the media from various countries waiting to hear if they would be able to go to the World Champs in the USA. The problem was not that they hadn’t qualified, or didn’t have the right World Athletics accreditation, it was because of a severe, worldwide backlog in the US State Department’s visa application process. As a result, some athletes only received clearance to travel a couple of days before the World Champs began, while others were simply denied outright when applying for an appointment to apply for a visa.

This affected a number of the SA contingent, some of who simply didn’t get to the USA, and some who did eventually get to Eugene at the proverbial ‘lastminute.com’ will have had far from ideal preparation for a World Champs meet, due to the stress, late travel plans, and jetlag. After all, they are crossing nine time zones in order to compete on the West Coast of the USA!

I’m sure we will hear more about that in coming weeks as the dust settles (or gets stirred up again), but for now, we focus on the action on the track and in the jumps and throws on the infield. South Africa has sent some genuine medal contenders to Eugene, as well as some youngsters who will get a first taste of a World Champs environment, which will definitely stand them in good stead in years to come. I am a firm believer in ‘blooding’ young athletes at the top level, if the country expects them to perform at that level in years to come.

Disclaimer: On a related note, the report below talks about athletes being eliminated in qualifying rounds. That is just how the results are listed and reported in athletics, but I cannot stress it strongly enough that this should never detract from an athlete’s achievement in qualifying for the World Champs. The focus should be on the fact that our athletes made it to the World Champs in their chosen event, putting them amongst the top 50 or 100 athletes in the world in that event. So even a first round elimination is still one hell of an achievement, even if the news reports make it sound like a failure. Because it definitely is not a failure!

Day 1…

Anyway, let’s talk results. The first day of competition started disappointingly for team SA, with elimination in the qualifying rounds for men’s long jumpers Ruswahl Samaai (8th in his heat with a best jump of 7.86m), Jovan van Vuuren (11th with 7.79m) and Cheswill Johnson (no legal mark recorded), as well as for women’s shot putter Ischke Senekal (15th with a best of 15.40m). Two of our sprinters, Gift Leotlela (5th in 10.19 seconds) and Clarence Munyai (7th in 10.47) were also eliminated in the first-round heats of the men’s 100m, but Akani Simbine scraped through with a 10.07 fourth place in his heat to go through as one of the non-automatic fastest qualifiers.

In the men’s 20km race walk, veteran Wayne Snyman once again showed that experience can trump youth by finishing a solid 12th in 1:21:23. At 37 years of age, he appears as hungry to compete as he in in his younger years, and having finished second in the recent African Champs in Mauritius, he was once again the second African athlete over the line in Eugene.

Day 2…

Saturday’s competition started with Antonio Alkana running in the fifth heat of the men’s 100m hurdles, but his 13.64 finish and fifth place was unfortunately not good enough to take him to the semi-final round. Carina Horn finished fourth in her first-round heat of the women’s 100m, clocking 11.29, and was also eliminated. Also out went Ryan Mphahlele, having finished 12th in his 1500m qualifying heat with a 3:39.17 finish. With all three of these athletes, their elimination belies the fact that they were only just outside the times needed to go further.

More positive news came in the men’s 400m hurdles, where Sokwakhana Zazini ran 50.09 to finish fifth in the second heat and made it through to the semi-final round as a fastest qualifier. And in the women’s 10,000m, Dominique Scott-Efurd ran a solid 31:40.73 to finish 17th, but commented on social media after her run that she was disappointed with her time. The highlight of the day, however, was Akani Simbine’s 9.97 in the first semi-final of the men’s 100m. It was a season best for him and put him into the final, due to be run just under two hours later. Akani thus went into another global final as one of the favourites, but had to settle for fifth place with a 10.01 time, and will no doubt be very frustrated by once again getting so close to a medal on the world stage.

Day 3…

The third day of competition started early with the men’s marathon, with two South Africans in the race. Melikhaya Frans came into the event with a personal best (PB) of 2:11:28, run in the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon last year, and he proceeded to smash more than two minutes off that mark with a 2:09:24 to finish 18th in Eugene. The other South African in the race was Tumelo Motlagale, who came home 52nd in 2:20:21, having been up with the leaders in the early stages of the race. He ran his PB of 2:11:15 as recently as May in the SA Champs race in Durban, so perhaps his legs were not quite fully recovered yet, and the SA Champs race would be better positioned a little further ahead of a major championship event next time.

The women’s 400m qualifiers saw Miranda Coetzee clock 53.30 to finish seventh in her heat and she did not go through to the next round, while men’s discus throwers Werner Visser and Victor Hogan both finished 13th in their qualifying groups, with best distances of 58.44 and 60.51 metres respectively, and will take be part of the final. Meanwhile, Soks Zazini lined up in the third heat of the men’s 400m hurdles semi-final round and finished seventh in 45.69, thus also being eliminated.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the day for South African fans was seeing Wayde van Niekerk back to top form. In the first heat of the men’s 400m qualifiers, he shot out to an early lead and then ran conservatively in the second half of his race to win his heat in 45:18 and qualify for the next round. While he still has a long way to go to regain the form and confidence that saw him win the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Champs titles, as well as set a World Record of 43:03 in Rio in 2016, but it is nevertheless terrific to see him racing smoothly again after a long recovery following a freak knee injury suffered during a charity touch rugby game. Joining Wayde in the semi-final round is Zakhiti Nene, who clocked 45:69 to finish third in his heat.

International Highlights…

While many events have already delivered fantastic spectacles and results, there have been a few that nevertheless stood out from the rest. Both 100m finals saw a single country record a clean sweep of the podium positions – in the men’s race, Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Fred Kerley timed his dip for the line perfectly to win in 9.86 second, followed by compatriots Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell. The women’s 100m title went to Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in 10.67 seconds, to give her a record fifth 100m World Title, and she was closely trailed over the line by countrywomen Shericka Jackson and four-time Olympic sprint champion Elaine Thompson-Herah.

A thrilling women’s 10,000m final was won by Ethiopian World Record-holder Letesenbet Gidey, with a thrilling sprint that could have seen any one of four or five athletes take the title. The Ethiopian has all too often just missed out on global honours due to being out-sprinted at the end, but this time she outlasted all challengers for a deserved win in a world-leading 30:09.94, and even new personal bests by Kenyans Hellen Obiri (30:10.02) and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi (30:10.07) were just not enough to beat Gidey.

The men’s 10,000m saw Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei make it back-to-back 10,000m golds at the World Championships. The World Record-holder came into the meet seemingly not quite at his best, but he was still at the front end of the race when the bell rang for the last lap, and he cranked up the pace to win in a season best 27:27.43. Kenya’s Stanley Mburu took silver, in spite of falling in the first lap, and Cheptegei’s compatriot Jacob Kiplimo took bronze, while the first five men all finished within one second of each other!

Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola won the men’s marathon in a championship record 2:05:36, having broken clear after 34km. His countryman Mosinet Geremew took the silver medal in 2:06:44, while Belgian Bashir Abdi claimed the bronze medal, to go with the bronze he won last year in the Tokyo Olympic Marathon.

The World Champs will run until Sunday 24 July, so there is still plenty of action to come!