Our ath­letes may just have the world at their feet ...

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - OCK­ERT DE VIL­LIERS

ONE global mark down and two to go as South African ath­letes are look­ing to re­write the world track and field record books. The world ex­pected Olympic 800m gold medal­list Caster Se­menya to break the world record in the two-lap event in 2016 but in­stead, it was Wayde van Niek­erk who pro­duced the magic in Rio de Janeiro.

If long-jump sensation Luvo Many­onga and Se­menya’s up­wards tra­jec­to­ries in their re­spec­tive events are any­thing to go by, they may be join­ing Van Niek­erk in ad­ding the South African flag be­hind world records. When Van Niek­erk de­mol­ished Michael John­son’s 400m record by 0.15sec, he be­came the first South African since 1975 to break an ath­let­ics world record. Dis­cus thrower John van Ree­nen was the last South African to reach this feat when he set a new global mark in his spe­cial­ist event in Stel­len­bosch with a heave of 68.48m.

Van Niek­erk ush­ered in a new South African ath­let­ics era al­though Se­menya was the first of the ‘born-frees’ to make her mark on the global stage. Set­ting a South African record at her maiden World Cham­pi­onships in Berlin 2009, she an­nounced her ar­rival on the global stage. It was only un­til last year that she would once again re­turn to the type of form that made her one of the hottest prop­er­ties in world ath­let­ics as a mere teenager.

Her ab­so­lute dom­i­nance in the two-lap race in 2016 fuelled spec­u­la­tion she would break the dust-cov­ered world record at the global show­piece.

Talk of Se­menya break­ing Czech ath­lete Jarmila Kra­tochvílová’s long-stand­ing world record of 1:53.28 did not ma­te­ri­alise but the South African nev­er­the­less im­proved on her na­tional mark to claim the Olympic ti­tle. Cross­ing the line in 1:55.28 she shaved 0.05 off her pre­vi­ous best to move up one spot from 12th to 11th on the world all-time list. Her SA record is more than a sec­ond off 2008 Olympic cham­pion Pamela Je­limo of Kenya’s con­ti­nen­tal record of 1:54.01.

While Se­menya has al­ways been re­luc­tant to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of break­ing the record, she struck a slightly dif­fer­ent tone ear­lier this year at the ASA Speed Se­ries in Potchef­stroom. “Who knows if I can go faster than that? But the main fo­cus is the World Champs and run­ning faster times,” Se­menya said at the time. “The world record is ob­vi­ously on my mind when I look at the splits they run; if you work hard you can achieve those goals.” At her fi­nal race be­fore the World Champs, Se­menya low­ered her na­tional record by 0.01 in­di­cat­ing some good form go­ing into the global show­piece. Ad­ding the 1500m to her reper­toire for the cham­pi­onships may com­pli­cate her chances of get­ting closer to the global mark but noth­ing seems to be im­pos­si­ble for her.

Ad­ding his name to the SA world-record mix is Many­onga, who has leapt to four dis­tances above 8.60m at four con­sec­u­tive meets. His na­tional and con­ti­nen­tal record of 8.65m at the SA Cham­pi­onships in Potchef­stroom in April launched him into 11th place on the world all-time list while it was also the big­gest jump in al­most eight years.

The long-jump phe­nom has made over­tures about break­ing the 9m bar­rier which would launch him into the record books. He clearly has Mike Pow­ell’s long-stand­ing record of 8.95m in his sights and given his pro­gres­sion, he may soon be giv­ing it a fright.

Which brings us to Van Niek­erk, who has made his in­ten­tions of be­com­ing the first man to dip be­low 43 sec­onds in the one-lap sprint as he looks to im­prove on his world record of 43.03. Imag­ine three new world records by South Africans be­fore year end. Wouldn’t that be a thing?

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