South African athletes surprise at Champs

2009-08-17 00:00

“EXPECT the unexpected” may well be the motto from South Africa’s opening weekend at the 12th World Athletics championships in Berlin.

Ruben Ramolefi left competitors in no doubt of his medal intentions when he dictated the pace from gun to line in the second heat of yesterday’s 3 000 m Steeplechase to become the country’s first finalist.

Holding first or second spot until the final 30 metres, the 31 year-old recorded his third best time of eight minutes 18,24 seconds, but allowed defending World Champion Brimin Kipruto, and multiple-finalist Bouabdellah Tahri from France to slip into the top two spots just before the line. Uganda’s Benjamin Kiplagat, who was part of the breakaway quartet after the first kilometre, was the fourth qualifier.

Running with maturity well beyond her 18 years, Caster Semenya was given a baptism of fire in yesterday’s opening round of the 800 m, which brought back the infamous Mary Dekker – Zola Budd experience of the 1984 Olympics.

The world leader, Semenya, tucked behind Janeth Jepkosgei, from the gun with 2008 world indoor champion, Tetyana Petlyuk, on her shoulder as the field began to jostle for places. Showing amazing control of her momentum Semenya, who was spiked, managed to avoid a grounded Jepkosgei. Although dropping to fifth the Limpopo-based athlete regained composure to take line honours in two minutes 2,51 seconds. American Geena Gall and Petlyuk secured the other qualifying spots. Jepkosgei ended her championship defence in seventh.

“I didn’t see anything; I was looking forward and just tried to jump [over Jepkosgei],” said Semenya, with blood oozing from two spike marks on her right leg. “I just wanted to stay in the top three.”

Drama also marked Saturday’s 800 m heats with Johan Cronjé and Peter van der Westhuizen. Van der Westhuizen literally brushed off the illegal attempts of Ireland’s Thomas Chamney to force his way through on the inside. The South African number two finished fifth in 3:42,33, which was sufficient to secure a place in the semi-final.

One of South Africa’s prime medal hopes went with the elimination of L.J. van Zyl in the first of yesterday’s semi-finals of the 400 m hurdles.

South Africa’s new sprinter on the block, Simon Magakwe, impressed to progress through to the 100 m quarterfinals, but battled both the speed and injury to go further. The fast- starting 23-year-old who has been training under Usain Bolt’s coach in Jamaica since May, finished third in 10,54 seconds in the first round, but was out-gunned in the quarters where he slowed due to injury.

“Training in Jamaica has helped me a lot because I had no technique before,” said Magakwe, who had painted RSA into his hair to promote the 2010 Fifa World Cup. “The speed I have, but the strength and aggression is missing.”

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