A year to remember SA's athletics

2014-09-21 15:00

In the words of Chicago Bulls centre Joakim Noah: “People remember champions. That’s the way it is.”

This statement rings true for Athletics SA (ASA) senior track and field athletes this year after they claimed 10 African and three Commonwealth titles.

The South African contingent also had a hand in the outcome of the IAAF Continental Cup last weekend after 400m hurdler Cornel Fredericks and Wayde van Niekerk (4x400m relay) picked up gold medals for Team Africa.

The two are the only South Africans ranked in the top five of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) list.

Fredericks’ victory at the Marrakech, Morocco, event was his third individual gold medal in major competitions this year. He also claimed the Commonwealth and African titles last month.

On the other hand, Van Niekerk enjoyed a breakthrough season where he took off with the national 400m crown in April, an SA record in June, the Commonwealth Games and African runners-up medals last month.

The Kovsies Athletics runner also helped Team Africa’s 4x400m relay side to a gold at the Continental Cup last Saturday.

The achievements of Khotso Mokoena will no doubt put him in contention to be nominated SA Athlete of the Year with Fredericks and Van Niekerk.

The Commonwealth and African triple jump champion, Mokoena has the IAAF Diamond League title?–?a first for a South African athlete?–?to look at to get the true reflection of his amazing season.

Mokoena’s jump of 17.35m for a second-place finish at the Continental Cup capped a medal-laden season, particularly since he added the triple jump to his events.

The rise of sprinter Akani Simbine was another highlight on the track this season.

Still only 20, the Athletics Gauteng North runner anchored the South African 4x100m relay to a new record at the Commonwealth Games last month. (see graphic)

He started the season with a new personal best 10.02 in the 100m dash, a mark that catapulted the energetic sprinter to second place?– behind Simon Magakwe (9.98)?–?in South Africa’s all-time performances list.

Simbine was just unfortunate not to have picked up a medal, but the experience on the big stage was invaluable as he also debuted in the IAAF Diamond League.

Female hurdlers Wenda Nel (400m hurdles) and Rikenette Steenkamp (100m hurdles) also eased the burden on the first lady of SA athletics, javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen, by hauling in medals.

Nel and Steenkamp picked up their first continental crowns at the African Championships last month?– the first gold by a local woman at a major championship since Viljoen’s and discus thrower Elizna Naude’s triumph at the 2010 continental championships.

By comparison, this season was ASA’s best in the track and field since 2011 where five new records were also set?–?but this year was even better because it created the most number of champions.

Looking at this list of achievements, it is easy to see why South Africa is now ranked number one in Africa.

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