Semenya back in action in Tshwane

2009-09-10 00:00

CASTER Semenya will be in action on Saturday in the SA Cross-Country Championships in Tshwane and is expected to provide stiff opposition to defending champion Lebo Phalula in the senior women’s race.

This will be Semenya’s first competitive outing since winning the 800 metres at the World Championships in Berlin.

Semenya will face nine of the top 10 women from last year, including Violet Raseboya (CGA), Ntombisintu Ntshiliza (EPA) and Myrette Filmalter (AGN). While Semenya has a definite speed advantage, she will have her powers of endurance tested over the 8 km distance. However, this is home territory for the 18-year-old, who is studying Sports Science at Tukkies, where the championships are being held.

Annerien van Schalkwyk, the current SA half-marathon champion who was seventh last year, has broken a toe and will not be taking part. Van Schalkwyk had been preparing for the World Half-Marathon Championships in Birmingham and must be a doubtful starter for that event, which is just over a month away.

A massive team of 185 athletes left from Kwazulu-Natal early this morning to compete in the championships, with the senior women’s team one of the best hopes of medals.

Jenna Challenor, Janene Carey, Makhozi Mlongo and Danielle Adlam, who brought back the bronze medal from the Nedbank SA 10 km Championships two weekends ago, are back in action, but may find the altitude too much of an additional challenge.

Thubalethu Phaku, the province’s most successful cross-country athlete of recent years, will be joined by Senzo Nkozi in the senior 12 km competition, where it is expected that 2008 champion Boy Soke will be challenged by the on-form Stephen Mokoka and former SA 10 km champion Sbusiso Nzima.

Mokoka proved unbeatable in the 10 km and 21 km championships, where he set some of the fastest times of recent years, but it remains to be seen if he can achieve the same domination off-road.

The championships are set to be the largest ever cross-country event with over 3 000 athletes across the full spectrum of ages.

“We have 3 060 confirmed entries from 17 provinces for the SA Championships. Together with the 700 fun runners in the morning, it tops the previous record of 2 720 set by Free State in 2005 by more than 1 000,” said Phiwe Tsholetsane, Athletics South Africa events manager.

In addition to the national titles, the senior and junior men and women will be competing for places in teams to the Southern Region and World Cross-Country Championships, which will be held in Poland in March 2010.

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