Caster Semenya makes SA athletics history

Mokgadi Caster Semenya is endorsed by Nike and Wiphold
Mokgadi Caster Semenya is endorsed by Nike and Wiphold

Caster Semenya made South African athletics history at the Coetzenburg Stadium on Saturday when she became the first person to win the 400m‚ 800m and 1500m at a single South African Senior Athletics Championships‚ and in one day.

Semenya achieved an incredible triple as she won gold in the 400m and 800m‚ and did so with Olympic qualifying times in both of 50.74 seconds and 1:58.45 respectively. Her double here came with only 50 minutes to spare between the two races. Semenya then added gold in the 1500m‚ beating Dominique Scott with a time of 4:10.93.

“I’m overwhelmed. I didn’t expect to run fast times like this. I had fun. You’ve got to enjoy what you do and that’s what I’ve been doing in this championship. I haven’t had fun in a while‚” she said.

It was an incredible performance on a day when Wayde van Niekerk and Stephen Mokoka were also outstanding.

Van Niekerk cruised to victory in the men’s 400m in a time of 44.98 seconds. “I touched that 44 seconds‚ even though it was just a toe in there. I didn’t reach my goals but I appreciate every achievement that comes my way. The main goal is the Olympics and I want to pick up momentum before I get to Europe in June and then Rio‚” he said.

Van Niekerk said he struggled physically and emotionally in the build-up to his race.

“I had a bit of tightness in my back and hamstrings so it was difficult to decide on my strategy. And one of my best friends‚ Akani (Simbine)‚ got hurt in the 100m. We feed off one another and it wasn’t nice to see him get injured.”

On Friday night‚ Simbine was beaten to the gold in the men’s 100m by Henricho Bruintjies and then had to be helped off the track with a grade two hamstring tear.

Van Niekerk confirmed that he will be taking up an invitation to train with celebrated Jamaican sprint coach Glen Mills as he seeks to improve.

“To be the best you need to be around the best. It’s all about being up there with Usain Bolt and the best in the world.”

In the men’s 10 000m‚ Mokoka fell short of a South African record but achieved his goal of Olympic qualification as he took gold in a time of 27:57.51‚ adding to his victory in the 5000m on Friday.

“I must thank Elroy (Gelant) for pacing me because if it wasn’t for him I don’t think I would’ve run an Olympic qualifier because my body was tiring.”

Ruswahl Samaai won the men’s long jump with a big leap of 8.34 metres on his first attempt and earned himself Olympic qualification‚ while former junior world champion Luvo Manyonga was eliminated after three rounds without getting a decent jump on the board.

It’s also been a good championships for the Van Zyls and despite suffering from diarrhoea the day before their races.

LJ van Zyl qualified for his third Olympics when he won Friday night’s 400m hurdles in a time of 49.34 seconds. It marked the 100th time he’d dipped below 49.50 seconds and earned him his eighth South African title. Wife Irvette had earlier won gold in the 5000m and now tackles the opening Spar Women’s 10km Challenge series race in Cape Town on Sunday as she continues her preparations for next weekend’s London Marathon.

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