Olympic silver for Caster Semenya

12 August 2012

Caster Semenya won a silver medal in the women’s 800 metres at the London Olympic Games on Saturday night to make 2012 the best return for Team South Africa since the country was readmitted to the Olympic fold in 1992.

Russia’s Maria Savinova, the 2011 world champion, took victory, with another Russian, Ekaterina Poistogova edging Kenya’s Pamela Jelimo for the bronze medal.

It was a fast race, with Savinova winning in 1:56.19 and Semenya second in 1:57.23, both of which were season’s bests for the two athletes. Yet, and this says something about the form Semenya was in, it felt as if she could have gone faster.

It was a curiously run race from the South African. The USA’s Alysia Johnson Montano took it out strongly from the start, and by the time the athletes hit the straight Semenya was in sixth place, with only the Russians, Savinova and Elena Arzhakova behind her.

As they hit the turn, Savinova moved ahead of Semenya, who fell back to last place as the pack rounded into the straight.

Coming from behind

At the bell, Johnson Montano had taken the field through the first 400 metres in a fast 56.31 seconds. Semenya, at the back, was about 15 metres behind the American.

Down the back straight, Jelimo struck out and took over at the front. With about 270 metres to go, Savinova, known for her fast finish, responded, rounding the runners in front of her before running down the Kenyan and taking over the lead as the runners entered the home straight. Semenya was way back in sixth place.

The Russian pulled clear of Jelimo with every stride. Semenya, meanwhile, was passing those in front of her as if they were running in treacle. Ten metres from the finish, she moved into second place, but Savinova had taken a convincing victory after timing her challenge better than the South African star had hers.

‘True South African spirit’

Compared to the other athletes, who looked tired out, Semenya looked as if she had a lot left in her legs and it left one thinking she could have challenged for the title had she run a different race tactically. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old’s achievement should not be undermined. Winning an Olympic silver medal is a fine achievement.

“This is a fantastic result for Caster, especially so, after what she had to go through after the 2009 World Championships,” South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) CEO Tubby Reddy said afterwards. “But all credit to her. She has shown true South African spirit and never gives up.

“She is a credit to both the Olympic spirit and South Africa as a nation,” Reddy said.

“Her silver also takes us to six medals, making it a tremendous achievement at these Games and credit to an amazing amount of work by all concerned … athletes, coaches, administrators especially.”

African record in 50 kilometres walk

Marc Mundell, contesting the 50 kilometres race walk, finished in 32nd place. His time, though, was an African record 3:55:32 and bettered his previous best time by almost two-and-a-half minutes.

“I gave it everything possible today to walk a new African record,” Mundell said afterwards. “I’m delighted,” he added, before suggesting that it was now time to give his tired feet a good rest.

Hockey men end campaign with a win

The South African men’s hockey team ended their Olympic campaign with a 3-2 win over India, leaving the five-time Olympic champions without a win at the Olympics for the first time.

It was also South Africa’s first victory over the Indians in a major tournament.

Julian Hykes and Andrew Cronje combined to put Gregg Clark’s charges in front in the eighth minute, but Sandeep Singh pulled India level only six minutes later from a penalty corner.

Just before the break, Tim Drummond provided a clever finish after a nice run by Justin Reid-Ross to put South Africa into a 2-1 lead at half-time.

A superb reverse stick finish by Lloyd Norris-Jones gave South Africa a two-goal cushion with only five minutes to play. A goal by Dharamvir Singh for India ensured a tense finish, but South Africa held on for a 3-2 victory.

Women’s cross-country MTB race

Candice Neethling found the going tough in the women’s cross-country mountain bike race on the hilly course at Hadleigh Farm, but found great support from the fans lining the course.

She was the last of the finishers, but 2012 was not supposed to be the year for the 20-year-old to challenge. Rio 2016 is the true focus for Neethling, with London 2012 providing her with invaluable experience.

“I’d hoped to finish around 20th, but this is the Olympic Games. People bring their best and that’s what you compete with,” Neethling told reporters afterwards.

“To be at this event, at 20 years old, I’m so happy to have been able to do that. I have less experience, I’m younger and this is all about the journey of getting better and that’s all that I could ask for,” she added.

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