Double 800m gold for South Africa

24 August 2009

Mbulaeni Mulaudzi emulated Caster Semenya’s feat in the women’s 800 metres by winning gold in the men’s race, while Khotso Mokoena took silver in the long jump, to lift South Africa into the top 10 on the medals table at the conclusion of the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin on Sunday.

Thanks to the weekend’s medal haul, and Semenya’s gold in the women’s 800 metres, South Africa finished ninth behind the USA, Jamaica, Kenya, Russia, Poland, Germany, Ethiopia, and Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In total, 202 countries took part in the championships.

The 800 metres double is reminiscent of the feat achieved in the 2003 World Championships, when South Africans Jacques Freitag and Hestrie Cloete won gold in the men’s and women’s high jump.

Running from the front

For Mulaudzi, who has been one of the world’s leading 800 metres runners for many years now, Sunday’s victory was deeply satisfying. Afterwards, exhausted, he sat on the track, let out a yell, then lent back on his hands, and let out another yell of delight.

Once he had recovered sufficiently, he wrapped himself in the South African flag and went to the crowd to soak up their applause.

It was an especially impressive victory because of the manner in which he won, dictating the race from the front. It was also impressive considering the manner in which he reached the final.

In qualifying, the South African star won his first heat in a time of one minute 46.40 seconds. However, in the semi-finals he was boxed out and finished only fourth in his heat. Despite this, he reached the medal-deciding race as one of the two fastest qualifiers to finish outside the top two in the three semi-final races.

Having scraped into the final, Mulaudzi took the initiative and was rewarded for his brave decision.

Digging deep

It was a very tight race, and on two occasions Mulaudzi had to push away the arm of the man behind him. Starting from the outside lane, he worked hard to take the lead as the runners neared the end of the first straight.

At the completion of the first lap, the time was 53.44 seconds. Working hard down the back straight, Mulaudzi withstood the building pressure and accelerated as the field came off the bend into the final straight. He built up a small gap and then dug deep and dipped for the line to gain victory.

Mulaudzi was first in one minute 45.29 seconds, with Kenya’s Alfred Kirwa Yego second in 1:45.35, and Bahrain’s Yusuf Saas Kamel third in the same time.

Speaking at a press conference after his win, Mulaudzi said: “To lead was part of my plan. I have really battled in the past few championships and the past few races this year. But everything worked out in the last few weeks.

“I spoke to my coach and my manager, and they said that the only way to run a good race was to be in control. So I led and ran a good last 200. That was it for me.

‘Very happy, very grateful’

“I’ve been around for a long time,” Mulaudzi added. “I’m very happy, very grateful for this gold medal. I’ve tried often to get a medal for outdoors, but I got injuries or I got sick. Today is the most important day in my life.

“Last year we saw [Wilfred] Bungei come in to win the Olympics, and he is not a junior any more! Maybe experience also counts.

“For me it was a great day, and technically my race plan was perfect. That’s how I won today.”

He also described his victory lap, saying: “Everybody saw I was very happy, very pumped up. I was very excited the whole victory lap, with the whole crowd cheering.”

Long jump silver

Khotso Mokoena preceded Mulaudzi’s gold medal with a silver medal in the long jump on Saturday to match his result at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

After a no jump in the opening round, Mokoena moved into second place behind Dwight Phillips in the second round with a leap of 8.47 metres, just three centimetres short of his African record. Phillips, meanwhile, leapt 8.54 metres to add 14 centimetres to his first round jump, which had given him the lead.

The second round jumps by Phillips and Mokoena proved to be the best of the competition, while Mitchell Watt recorded 8.37 metres in the fifth round to move to the bronze medal position.

Commenting on his effort afterwards, Mokoena said: “Today, it was great. Coming into the championship I was positive. I came in to give it my best shot, training was good, and the spectators kept me going.”

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