LOOKING BACK: FIVE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 2021 SEASON

Despite the ongoing challenges faced by the Covid pandemic, SA’s elite athletes delivered across the board this year. We must, of course, admit this was not South Africa’s best season of athletics. Securing no medals at the Olympic Games for the first time since readmission is a blemish that prevents us from raving too much about the 2021 campaign.

Aside from that one failure, however, this year was spectacular, and there were memorable performances produced throughout the season.
We take a look at some of the highlights on the track, in the field and on the road.

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Akani Simbine

Though he was admittedly gutted after narrowly missing out on the podium in Tokyo, Simbine was in superb form this year. At a meeting in Hungary in July, he scorched over the line in 9.84 seconds, smashing his own national 100m record. He also broke the long-standing African record, though he held that mark for less than three months before Kenyan sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala went even quicker in Nairobi. Simbine dipped under 10 seconds on eight occasions this year and was ranked sixth in the world, but it was his record-breaking effort on the eve of the Olympics which really stood out.

Kyle Blignaut

A former world junior shot put champion, Blignaut is one of the country’s most talented prospects in any discipline, and if he reaches his potential, he’s going to become a legend. The 22-year-old athlete sent the shot sailing beyond 21 metres at three meetings this year, setting a massive personal best of 21.21m. Blignaut’s consistency has been remarkable, both at home and abroad, creating a friendly rivalry with compatriot Jason van Rooyen as they lifted each other to another level. Though he did not really put up a fight for a medal in Tokyo, in a very competitive final, Blignaut showcased his ability once again by taking sixth position and sticking up his hand among the contenders for the 2024 Paris Games.

4x100m relay

Their performance in Tokyo is probably best forgotten, after a late change to the quartet resulted in a flop with the baton and the squad crashed out in one of the nation’s most disappointing results of the season. If we wind back the clock a few months, however, the sprint relay team was also responsible for one of the country’s best performances this year. While some global sprinting giants were missing from the World Athletics relays in Poland in May, including the United States and Jamaica, the SA team – Thando Dlodlo, Gift Leotlela, Clarence Munyai and Simbine – outclassed the competition that lined up in the final. With Brazil being disqualified, they charged to a comfortable victory, finishing half-a-second clear of Italy to secure the gold medal.

Gerda Steyn

A shortage of ultra-distance races allowed Steyn to focus on the standard marathon this year without making sacrifices, and she flaunted her talent over a wide range of distances throughout the 2021 campaign. It was her performance in Siena in April which stood out, however, with Steyn clocking 2:25:28 to break the 25-year-old national 42km record held by Colleen de Reuck (finishing a few minutes ahead of compatriot Irvette van Zyl, who also dipped under 2:29:00). It remains unclear whether Steyn will return to ultras next year, with Comrades and Two Oceans back on the calendar, but if she continues to race over the classic distance, she can probably go even quicker.

Junior stars

Much like the case with the World Relays, there were some countries missing from the World Athletics U-20 Championships in Nairobi in August. This did nothing, however, to dampen the ambitions of the SA team, and the country’s junior athletes delivered in style. The squad finished sixth in the medals table, led by standout results from the men’s 4x100m relay team, who set a world junior record of 38.51, as well as versatile field events star Mine de Klerk and exciting pole vault prospect Mire Reinstorf, who won gold medals.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Written by Wesley Botton