SOUTH AFRICAN ATHLETICS IS ALIVE

Photo by Roger Sedres/ImageSA/Gallo Images

 

 

Being barred from international competition in 1962 due to South Africa’s apartheid policy, it seemed like the end of the road for South African sport. After many negotiations between 1962-1990, however, the nation was allowed to compete at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Fast forward to 2017 and South Africa is a powerhouse in world sport and things can only get better after the recent resurgence of South African athletics.

In 1992, Elana Meyer bagged a silver medal in the women’s 10000m, the only medal for the athletics team and one of only two medals for the country at the Games in Barcelona. 1996 in Atlanta, Hezekiel Sepeng (800m) secured a silver medal and Josia Thugwane gold in the men’s marathon, whilst Hestrie Cloete (High Jump) jumped to a silver medal in Sydney in 2000. Hurdler Llywellyn Herbert and discus thrower Frantz Kruger both delivered bronze medal performances, also in Australia. Another silver medal for Cloete at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens marked her as one of the country’s most consistent performers, whereas Mbulaeni Mulaudzi’s silver medal in the men’s 800m was merely the start of his journey. Khotso Mokoena made his mark as the sole medallist for team South Africa at the Beijing Olympics Games with his silver medal leap in the men’s long jump while Caster Semenya took silver, alongside the “Oarsome Foursome” Olympic gold medal rowers and swimming stalwarts Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh, as a 21-year-old at the Olympic Games in London. This would later change when Russian athlete Mariya Savinova (the winner of the 800m race) was stripped from her title after testing positive for using banned substances, resulting in Semenya getting gold. At the 2016 Games in Rio meanwhile, Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya delivered gold medal performances while Sunette Viljoen and Luvo Manyonga were good enough for silver medals, the best performing Olympics athletics team to date.

Despite facing political turmoil since 2008, South African athletics managed to climb up the ladder of success, ironically, almost flawlessly. During 2008 to 2017, Simon Magakwe ran the first sub 10 second 100m by a South African, Caster Semenya bagged four major championship medals, Wayde van Niekerk set new 300m and 400m world records, Sunette Viljoen remained one of the most consistent javelin throwers in women’s javelin and Luvo Manyonga, Zarck Visser and Ruswahl Samaai climbed up the long jump ranks alongside the legendary Khotso Mokoena. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Tshenolo Lemao became South Africa’s first 100m world champion at the IAAF World u/18 Championships where the nation stamped its authority by finishing first on the medal table. In 2017, the South African junior athletics team also showed the depth of the sport when they scooped 17 medals to finish second on the medal table behind athletics powerhouse Ethiopia. On top of that, the senior team heads into next month’s IAAF World Championships with hopes of bringing home more than 5 medals. And it can be done, because Wayde van Niekerk, Akani Simbine, Luvo Manyonga, Caster Semenya, Antonio Alkana, Ruswahl Samaai and Sunette Viljoen are in favourable mental positions to bag medals after delivering world-class performances during the first part of the year.

Athletics has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years and after a successful #FillUpPotch movement, we can expect stadiums to be filled up in the near future. With the current buzz around the sport, sponsors will come on-board and if this happens, things can only go better. “I had to make the sacrifice” mentioned the new world u/18 high jump champion Breyton Poole who sacrificed rugby to focus on athletics. If kids start sacrificing other sporting codes for athletics, we are on the right track.

A few years ago the sport was at its lowest and if you look at where it currently is, it’s fair to give all athletes a pat on the back. If it wasn’t for the athletes’ determination, persistence, drive, attitude and passion, everyone would still be talking about rugby and soccer. Now that the public is talking about athletics, it will be easier to fill up stadiums, make heroes out of the athletes and therefore encourage the next generation to make athletics their first love.

More than 15 South African records fell in 2016 and 2017 and by the look of things, more records are due to fall. The future of the sport is in good hands, because the future is now. Athletics is alive!

 

 

Written by Reggie Hufkie