Team SA shines at IAAF World Champs

5 September 2011

Team South Africa might have started the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea slowly, but they ended them in style, raising hopes of a strong showing at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

Ultimately, South Africa finished 17th on the medals table, with two silvers and two bronzes but, in terms of total medals won, only seven nations won more medals than South Africa’s four.

The four medals are an improvement of one on Team South Africa’s performance at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009. In the two World Championships preceding that, South Africa came away without a single medal, so the progress is pleasing.

China, too, won four medals, Commonwealth powerhouse Australia won three, and France and Cuba picked up four each, including one silver and three bronzes.

National record

The men’s 4-by-400 metres squad, which included double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, signalled a sign of good things to come on Friday when they broke the three-minute barrier for the first time in finishing third in their heat behind the big gun squads of the USA and Jamaica.

The time of two minutes 59.21 seconds by Pistorius, Ofentse Mogawane, Willie de Beer and Shane Victor bettered the previous South African record of 3:00.20, set at the 1999 World Championships by Jopie van Oudtsoorn, Hendrik Mokganyetsi, Adriaan Botha and Arnaud Malherbe.

400 metres hurdles

Before the relay squad had an opportunity to contest the final, two men, LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks, took part in the 400 metres hurdles final.

Running in the difficult outside lane, without the ability to gauge where his opposition was, Van Zyl grabbed bronze in 48.80 seconds, while Fredericks finished fifth in 49.12. Victory went to Britain’s David Greene in 48.26.

Van Zyl’s bronze and Fredericks’ place in the final continued a strong South African tradition in 400 metres hurdling, which includes a silver medal in the 1999 World Championships, won by Llewellyn Herbert.

4×400 metres final

The men’s 4-by-400 metres relay team returned to the track on Saturday with one change to the line-up. Oscar Pistorius was, somewhat controversially, omitted from the squad, with LJ van Zyl, the fastest man over 400 metres in South Africa in 2011, taking his place and running the anchor leg.

A strong run by Shane Victor saw South Africa pass the baton in third place after the first leg. Ofentse Mogawane then put in a scorching leg to take over the lead. Willie de Beer, on the third leg, maintained a strong position for South Africa before handing over to LJ van Zyl.

The hurdles’ star did well to hold off Jamaica, but the USA’s Leshawn Merrit had too much finishing speed as the Americans claimed gold, with South Africa finishing in second place to secure silver.

Thanks to his run in the heats, Oscar Pistorius also picked up a medal and made history as the first athlete with a disability to win a medal at the IAAF World Championships.

Greatest javelin competition in history

Javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen then claimed bronze in arguably the greatest women’s javelin competition in history, with the top three throwers registering fantastic marks.

Maria Abakumova lifted the title with a championship record throw of 71.99 metres, the second-best distance ever recorded. World record holder Barbara Spotakova pushed her all the way, ending second on a distance of 71.58, while Viljoen took home bronze with an African record of 68.38 metres.

Caster Semenya

Two other South african performers stood out on Saturday as Caster Semenya qualified for the final of the 800 metres with her best time of the year, one minute 58.07 seconds, as she won her semi-final. Luvo Manyonga, aged just 20, placed fifth in the long jump with a leap of 8.21 metres.

Semenya then turned in a superb performance on the final day of the Championships, running a fast season’s best one minute 56.35 seconds in the final of the 800 metres, but she was beaten into second place by Russian Maria Savinova, who claimed the title in a world leading one minute, 55.87 seconds, not far off Semenya’s winning time in Berlin two years previously.

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