It was a night of highs and lows as the London 2017 championships got underway at the Queen Elizabeth park on Friday night.
One unquestionable high IMO was the re-awarding of medals, from a number of championships as a result of the more rigorous re-testing of samples and the subsequent disqualification of doping cheats.
Judging by the roars and applause, the near capacity crowd also appreciated this move initiated by the ‘new’ IAAF under President Sebastian Coe.
In his opening address, Coe pointed out that these were the largest championships ever and the 2000 athletes from 200 countries had been required to achieve the toughest qualifying standards ever seen. This would be little comfort for over a dozen South African athletes whose dreams had been dashed by the even higher qualification standards enforced by what is likely to prove to be a short-sighted ASA.
But the championships opened and below is a summary and an opportunity to hear four of the SA Team after their performances:
Ruswahl Samaai’s third trial of 8.14m took him into the final of the long jump with a third longest qualifier of the night, just 2cm further than team-mate and the number one ranked Luvo Manyonga.
Samaai was confident and upbeat about his chances in Saturday’s final. “This was about qualifying. This is what I wanted, now its about executing the plan”
Manyonga was the first person to qualify over the 8.05m mark, recording 8.12m in the opening round. The South African star, who has seemingly recovered from an ankle injury from his final jump in the Monaco Diamond league, then sat out the rest of the qualifying round.
Although Zarck Visser progressed through his three trials to record a best of 7.66m, it was insufficient to take him to the final.
Despite failing to exceed the 8.05m qualifying distance Visser was far from down about his performance.
“I didn’t even think I was going to be here. Its been a short season and i am so pleased with the jumps today” said the third of the South African long jump stars, who sees the world indoor and the Commonwealth Games as the early targets for next year.
Akani Simbine went into his third heat of the 100m as fastest contender, but a poor start left him fighting for qualification, as Jamaican Julian Forte took the race in 9.99 seconds, with the South African fourth in 10.15
“We were held in set for a long time and i think i lost focus. Im not happy with the race, but i think the time is good enough to take me through”
It was a heart-stopping performance for South Africans, many of whom felt Simbine was virtually a certainty for the final, and a possible medalist.
The South African sprint story had also intended that Thando Roto would celebrate his arrival at the World Championship level with progression to at least the semi-finals, but he was disqualified from the 5th heat for a false start.
The devastation was written all over the 21 year old Eastern Cape athlete’s face as he was escorted from the start line.
As was expected Usain Bolt, despite a slow start, came through to win in the final heat and with third place equalling Simbines 10.15, the South African sprint star made it through to the semis as the fastest of three qualifying losers.
olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya ran an extremely well controlled and judged first round, despite sharing the heat with Ethiopia’s Dibaba.
After securing a clean start and inside lane, Semenya allowed herself to drop down the field for the second and maintained a steady pace for the core of the race. With little more than 650m remaining, it was time to ease up the pace. With what looked like considerable ease she smoothly edged up to the medal contenders and was then content to slip into second.
Genzebe Dibaba took the line first in 4:02.67 with Semenya 0.17 seconds adrift, and Winnie Chebet third.
With six qualifying from each heat, it was a relatively easy qualification for the Potchefstroom athlete, who has committed to the large task of doubling in the 1500m / 800m
Stephen Mokoka, South Africa’s leading marathon and 10,000m athlete had once again opted for the 10,000m distance at a major championships. This put him amongst a high class field, that were sure to leave him towards the back.
Upfront first the Ethiopians, then the Kenyans worked ruthlessly in an attempt to drain and lose Britain’s Mo Farah, but the double Olympic champion was having nothing of it and with 650m remaining took control of the race. A kick at 600 and again on the final lap, put up a world leading mark, and securing the first gold of his planned 10000m and 5000m retirement double.
With four laps to go the gap had opened ahead of Mokoka and there was no hope of him being able to medal or even contend for the medal positions. That said the diminutive AGN marathoner, ran a seasons best of 28:14.67 and shows good preparation towards a marathon distance.
There definitely appeared to be more in the tank, but lets hope that after another two races she has the ability to recover before taking on the double lapper.
Although the Discus qualification was set at 64.50m, over 80cm lower than Victor ‘ Hogan’a PB, his best trial spun out to 62.26, which left him over five places outside the final 12th place (63.21m).
DAY 2 Morning session:
Orazio Cremona will get South Africa off in Saturday’s morning session with group A of the shot putt qualification where his 21.12 PB set this season should see him exceed the 20.75m qualification mark.
Group B will see 30 year old Jaco Engelbrecht in action, but with a best of 20.63 this season the task is going to be that much tougher. Both groups commence at 11:00 RSA time.
Wayde van Neikerk commences his defense of the 2015 World 400m Gold, and the world record from Rio in the second of six heats at 11:54.
The man many are tipping to cause an upset in Waydes drive for the 200/400m double is Isaac Makwala, who will try to qualify from the penultimate heat.
Carina Horn, will have her work cut out for her when she runs in lane 9 in the fourth of six heats in the women’s 100m. On paper horn has the third fastest PB at 11.06 seconds, Marie-Josee Ta Lou the favourite for the heat and a medal with her Seasons Best 10.90 and a PB 0.06 seconds faster.
And in the evening
That will round of the morning session for the SA team, but the evening will hopefully results in a couple of medals if Akani can get back his mojo for the first of three semi-finals at 19:05.
The long jump duo of Samaai and Manyonga will hopefully continue their Diamond League domination to bring two medals back to the southern tip of Africa.
The evening session should see Caster Semenya secure her place in the 1500m finals after competing in the first of only two semi finals at 19:35.