Wayde van Niekerk was missing, but that didn’t stop his compatriots from putting up low numbers in a surprisingly busy athletics season, writes Simnikiwe Xabanisa.
Anaso back in the fast lane
Anaso Jobodwana’s Commonwealth Games might have ended in disqualification for a false start in the semifinals of the 200m, but this was a good year for him.
For a man who hasn’t been fully fit since 2015 when he won bronze at the world champs with a then South African record, being healthy was a massive positive.
He then followed it up by beating Justin Gatlin in a 150m race in the Athletix Grand Prix Series and capped it off by having his first child with his wife, son Zolani-Parker. Judging by his social media posts, Jobodwana looks healthy and motivated. Watch this space.
Munyai’s bolt from the blue on Tuks track
When Wayde van Niekerk’s knee injury ruled him out for the whole of this year, few could have imagined that one of his national records would be broken.
Even fewer would have imagined that said milestone (the 200m) would be revised by 20-year-old Clarence Munyai and indeed by how much. But running in the semifinal at the national champs at the Tuks track, Munyai put in a 19.69sec to stun friends and foes alike.
The mark would have been good enough to earn Munyai silver at the 2009 Berlin world championships where Usain Bolt set the record of 19.19sec.
Unfortunately not only did Munyai not run in the final for fear of aggravating his infamously iffy quad muscles, he also got nowhere near replicating the time. But clearly he has that kind of time in him.
Simbine finally gets his gold
After making the 100m final at the Rio Olympics (2016) and the London World Championships (last year), where he finished fifth each time, Akani Simbine has been chipping away at that elusive major championship gold.
The Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in Australia provided him with the ideal opportunity to open his major champs account and to make it more interesting Jamaican former 100m world champ Yohan Blake was in the field.
But Simbine wasn’t intimidated and ran the perfect race to win in 10.03sec, with countryman Henricho Bruintjies in close attendance in second and Blake third.
Zazini a decorated teenager
Former high jumper Jacques Freitag remains the only South African athlete who has won the world youth, world junior and world championship titles.
But, such is the esteem in which young 400m hurdler Sokwakhana Zazini is held, he is expected to achieve the same incredible feat.
The good news for the youngster from Burgersdorp in the Eastern Cape is that by winning the world junior champs in Tampere, Finland, earlier this year, he’s already managed the first two by the ripe old age of 18.
Add that to winning both the 400m hurdles and 400m flat at the junior national champs, and giving senior winner Lindsay Hanekom the hurry up in a tight finish and you have a good year for Zazini.
Semenya’s personal bests
Given that she has yet to lose an 800m race since 2015, maybe the heading here should be about Caster Semenya’s gleaming new personal bests in both the two-lap race and the metric mile.
Having gone into the season with the express intent of breaking into 1.54 territory for the 800m and breaking Zola Budd’s record in the 1 500m, Semenya did just that when she ran 1:54.25 and 3:59.92 for the two events respectively.
Those performances got her nominated for the International Association of Athletics Federations’ Female World Athlete of the year award and won her the SA Sports Star and SA Sportswoman of the year.
As things stand, the only threat to Semenya’s dominance is the IAAF’s new eligibility rules for female athletes based on testosterone, which she is fighting in the Court for Arbitration for Sport.
Rikenette Steenkamp breaks the 100m hurdles record
After winning both the junior and senior national 100m hurdles titles eight years ago, Steenkamp managed to break the record only this year, revising Corien Botha’s mark of 12.94sec twice to 12.91sec and 12.81sec.
The reason for the delay between first being national champion and breaking the record was hamstring and ankle injuries, but now that she’s healthy she and coach Hennie Kriel have to revise what they think is possible for them in the event (they thought the ceiling was around 12.80sec).
Manyonga defends Diamond League
While trying to catch his breath because there were no Olympics or world champs this year, Luvo Manyonga still kept up the winning habit with gold at the Commonwealth Games and a defence of his Diamond League title from last year.
In winning the latter competition, Manyonga took to leaving it to the last jump to secure his win.
There was also something approaching a warning by countryman Ruswahl Samaai, who took advantage of a rare off day by Manyonga to win the African Athletics Championships in Nigeria.
Ncincihli Titi flies low in Nigeria
With more sprinters coming out of Pretoria, Ncincihli Titi used this year as an opportunity to remind everyone of the South African athletes based in the US.
Titi, who has recorded a personal best of 20 seconds flat this year, almost came out of nowhere to win the 200m title at the African Athletics Championships in 20.46sec. He is considering going professional now his studies are ending at the South Carolina University.
Still no sign of Wayde
Wayde van Niekerk’s knee injury – sustained in a game of tag rugby in the build-up to the Springboks’ game against the All Blacks at Newlands last year – was supposed to keep him out of the sport until late in the European season, but the decision was made that he stay out of competition until next season.