Caster Semenya shows off SA greatness

Semenya takes photos with fans after the race in which she also broke Zola Budd's record./Adrian DENNIS / AFP
Semenya takes photos with fans after the race in which she also broke Zola Budd's record./Adrian DENNIS / AFP

Moments after her record-breaking exploits yesterday, Caster Semenya took the moment to remind the world of South Africa's greatness.

Semenya finally broke Zola Budd's record, which had stood for 34 years, in winning the 1 500m final in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia.

"I want everyone to know that South African athletes are here to stay," a beaming Semenya told reporters afterwards. "I'm proud to be a South African. We are a great nation and we want to display that to the world."

Her time of 4min 0.71 seconds shaved 1.1 seconds off Budd's 1984 SA record over the three-and-a-quarter lap and the feat earned the 27-year-old her first Commonwealth medal.

"As a middle-distance runner, I think I've done enough for my collection, but this was for my country, this was for the youth. We are inspiring the youth back there [in SA] so I just want to show them it is possible, they can do it, they just need to wake up," said the reigning 800m world and Olympic champion.

The breathtaking performance at the Gold Coast's Carrara Stadium track yesterday, however, did not come as a surprise to her coach Samuel Sepeng, who she has joined forces with since the start of the current season.

Instead, Sepeng warned they were gunning for another gold medal.

"We planned and worked for it [the 1 500m gold], and the message before the race was to keep with them [the pack] and go the last 200m and it worked for us," Sepeng told Sowetan.

Caster Semenya celebrates winning the 1 500m final during the Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast yesterday.
Caster Semenya celebrates winning the 1 500m final during the Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast yesterday.
Image: SAEED KHAN / AFP

"I did expect good time but not the record, but I knew [all along that] she was ready to run it. The plan for us is to go home with two golds."

Sepeng said they had to cut short the celebrations of downing Budd's magical number as their focus will immediately shift to the 800m.

Semenya will line up in the heats of her specialist event tomorrow (from 4.20am SA time) and Sepeng hinted of a possible record-beaking feat - that's if the race is fast.

"If they go fast then I'll talk time but gold is what is in mind," said Sepeng, the younger brother of 1996 Olympic Games silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng.

Semenya's medal was SA's only gold yesterday. But there were still a further two medals added to SA's tally.

Chad le Clos closed off the gala with a display of immense power to secure the 17th gong of his career - a bronze in the 4x100m medley relay. Brad Tandy, part of the foursome, also added a silver in the 50m freestyle earlier in the evening.

SA remained in fifth place on the medals table with nine gold, six silver and six bronze.

The visually impaired lawn bowls mixed pair, Nozipho Schroeder and Philippus Walker, secured a medal after beating Wales 11-9 in their semifinal. But, to land gold they will have to get past Australia in the final tonight.

Antonio Alkana finished fifth in the 110m hurdles in 13.49, slower than his heats effort of 13.32, which would have earned him bronze.

SA's last remaining boxer, Siyabulela Blom, was eliminated, and the women's hockey team lost 1-0 to India.
Additional reporting by AFP

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