WHAT a night for South African athletics! A new African record of 8,50m for Khotso Mokoena in the long jump and two brilliant wins by Johan Cronje and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi in the 1500m and 800m provided South African athletics with a tremendous injection at the 28th Madrid Athletics Meeting on Saturday night.
Mokoena, who had an excellent series of six jumps, was the pick of the three.
The fact that he was defeated by an unknown Australian, Fabrice Lapierre, was not of the greatest importance since he had the satisfaction of defeating the Olympic champion, Irving Saladino, of Panama. Mokoena also broke the continental record of 8.46m set by Cheikh Tidane Toure of Senegal in 1997.
"I am simply ecstatic," was the first response of his coach, Elna de Beer, conducting a coaching course at Magaliesburg. "8,60m is now within his reach but that is not the main aim. After his three recent successive wins with 8,33m, there was no doubt in my mind that he was building to something special."
De Beer will be joining him within a few weeks after which they will make their final preparations for Germany.
The 24-year-old Mokoena opened with 8,24m, then twice equalled the African record of 8,46m before closing with three jumps of 8,47m (wind-assisted), 8,50m (legal 1,3m wind-reading) and 8,43m. He also eclipsed his national record of 8.39m, which he had established in Finland in 2006, and moved from fifth to fourth on the 2009 world list.
Australia's Lapierre caused the major surprise by winning the event with 8,57m. An erratic Saladino had to be satisfied with a best of 8,43m.
Mokoena also became the 21st athlete ever to jump 8.50m - Lapierre was the 20th.
Cronje, full of confidence after his recent personal best and IAAF qualifying time of 3 min 35,11 sec in Greece, had never been so impressive than in Madrid defeating a strong field with a time of 3 min 37,33 sec.
He was in third place and, after the pace-setters had left the scene, he just stormed ahead and won easily.
Cronje had just returned to Europe after spending two of the coldest weeks in Bloemfontein.
"He was a different person and trained with a new zest and urgency since his fine race in Greece," Coach DB Prinsloo said.
A rusty Mulaudzi, who had not been competing for a few months and then suffered a severe bout of flu, had stiff competition and had to pull out all stops before winning his race in 1 min 45,81 sec., the third best of the evening.
Jackson Kivuna of Kenya won the second 800m in 1 min 44,86 sec.
Pieter Smith, the only other South African at the meeting, also had a first race after a lay-off due to injury and struggled to a fifth place in a very fast one-lapper won by David Gillich of Ireland in 44,77 sec.
Smith clocked 47.53 sec. - Sapa