Olympic medallists Caster Semenya and Sunette Viljoen opened their 2017 seasons with convincing victories in the third leg of the ASA Speed Series at Kenneth McArthur Athletics Stadium in Potchefstroom on Wednesday.
Making a rare appearance over 3000 metres, Semenya stepped up in distance and earned a well-deserved win in a tactical battle.
Sitting back in the pack for most of the race, the shorter distance specialist launched a kick in the final lap to shake off in-form athlete Kesa Molotsane, who fought all the way to the finishing line.
Semenya won the race in a personal best time of 9min 36min 29sec, with national cross country champion, Molotsane grabbing second place in 9:37.46.
‘I’m used to running a few minutes on the track and going home,’ Semenya joked afterwards. ‘This is part of my training because we took a longer rest (in the off-season) and we’re a month behind, so I just need to keep working.’
Viljoen, meanwhile, launched an impressive 62.82m heave to win the women’s javelin throw, nearly 10m clear of her nearest opponent.
After earning two bronze medals at the IAAF World Championships and Olympic silver last year, Viljoen said she was targeting a maiden global title in London later this season.
‘As an athlete, I don’t want to settle for second best,’ Viljoen said. ‘I know in my heart I haven’t reached my best. My long term goals are the World Championships (in August) and then Commonwealth Games next year. We will re-assess again after Gold Coast.’
Another Olympic finalist, Akani Simbine, won the men’s 200m race in 20.32. Simbine said he had fallen ill earlier in the week and admitted he was not at his best.
‘It felt really easy today,’ Simbine said. ‘I started getting sick on Monday, and I told myself to literally just do enough to win.’
In other disciplines, Le Roux Hamman produced a stunning victory over national record holder LJ van Zyl in the men’s 400m hurdles.
Taking the lead off the final hurdle, Hamman won the race in 49.70, with Van Zyl also dipping under 50 seconds, clocking 49.99.
Anuscha Nice won a hard-fought battle in the women’s 800m race, completing the two-lap event in 2:05.88 to hold off Gena Lofstrand (2:06.38) in the chase for the line, while Jerry Motsau produced a stunning kick at the bell to win the men’s 3000m race in 8:04.57.
In field events, Olympic long jumper Lynique Prinsloo, opened her campaign with 6.43m leap, and Jaco Engelbrecht delivered a 19.77m effort to win the Men’s Shot Put.
Athletes from Botswana put up a fight in most of the sprint races, giving the Meeting some great international flavour.
In an exciting men’s 400m dash, World Championships finalist Isaac Makwala, won in 45.75 and local athlete Pieter Conradie was credited with the same time in second place.
Makwala had also finished second behind Simbine in the 200m event in 20.62, just ahead of junior prodigy Clarence Munyai (20.67).
Earlier, in the best performance of the pre-programme, Botswana junior athlete Karabo Sibanda won the men’s 400m B race in a superb time of 45.08.The women’s one-lap event was won by compatriot Lydia Jele in 52.08.
The last of the four legs in the ASA Speed Series will be held in Germiston next Wednesday, 22 March.
Pictures of Semenya, Viljoen and Simbine courtesy of Roger Sedres/ImageSA
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