Caster misses Zola's record amid timing debacle

Caster Semenya wins the women's 800m during 2018 Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix Series 3 meeting at Dal Josaphat Athletics Stadium on March 22, 2018 in Paarl, South Africa.
Caster Semenya wins the women's 800m during 2018 Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix Series 3 meeting at Dal Josaphat Athletics Stadium on March 22, 2018 in Paarl, South Africa.
Image: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images

What a clock up. A faulty timing system marred the final Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix meet in Paarl on Thursday night, leaving spectators and athletes confused about their times.

On the plus side, the athletes delivered some great contests, with Akani Simbine, who had to withdraw from the SA championships last weekend, showing recently returned 100m champion Simon Magakwe just who’s the boss.

In the 200m, national champion Luxolo Adams chased down the more experienced Anaso Jobodwana, the 2015 world champion, over the final metres to snatch a dramatic victory.

The trackside clock said lightning had struck in both races, that Simbine had gone 9.85 and Adams 19.78.

In reality, they had gone 10.08 and 20.01.

At least there was no timing required in the long jump, where home-town favourite Ruswahl Samaai thrilled the fans as he won with a leap of 8.39m. He recorded five jumps over 8m, a distance neither Zarck Visser nor Khotso Mokoena could reach.

And Rocco van Rooyen, who hails from Cape Town’s northern suburbs, won the men’s javelin throwing a modest 75.20m as Kenya’s 2015 world champion Julius Yego ended fourth on 73.34.

Most of the talk ahead of this meet at the Dal Josaphat stadium had been about Caster Semenya and her bid to break Zola Budd’s 34-year-old 1500m record.

As the starter’s gun sounded, a technician was working on the trackside clock, which was dead to the world at that moment.

Luckily the clock on the giant TV screen was working, or so spectators thought, and it showed that Semenya — who had been closely tailed by US-based Dom Scott until she accelerated on the final lap — was on track to beat Budd’s 4min 01.81sec mark.

The crowd lapped up every moment of the race, cheering them all the way. And why not?

As Semenya stormed down the home straight the clock said she was going to smash the mark, 3:55, 3:56 and 3:57 as she hit the line. Okay, maybe it was 3:58.

Not a chance — the clock suddenly tele-transported to 4:02.50, even slower than Semenya’s 4:01.99 best.

But Semenya insisted she was not disappointed, saying she was happy with her performance. “I was just more focused on my rhythm,” she explained, adding: “I’m not here to break a record.”

Poor Scott was thinking her second place was faster than her 4:08.04 personal best, only to find out she was 0.57sec short.

She smiled widely nonetheless, but still, she had spent just more than three-and-a-half laps thinking the record was about to fall. “Why there’s no clock working?”

Good question. By the time Simbine, in the final event of the night, was asked what he thought, he responded in his usual diplomatic way: “I don’t know where I stopped the clock, but I’m happy I won.”

One of the organisers said timing would be sorted out for next year’s series; the three meets have created an appetite for more meets, and they will look at improving the technical standards.

For Jobodwana, who’s heading to the Commonwealth Games in Australia next weekend, his 20.07 was his fastest 200m since winning bronze at the 2015 world championships.

He looked to have it sewn up, but he couldn’t hold off the Madibaz sports management student, Adams, over the final few metres.

“The last 50m is where my race went wrong, I lost form. I think it’s endurance,” admitted Jobodwana.

“I was not given pressure in a while and maybe I didn’t handle it properly.”

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