Caster, Ruben shine | TeamSA - TeamSA

Caster, Ruben shine

´╗┐´╗┐By Mark Etheridge

Caster Semenya’s comeback continued at Thursday night’s final Yellow Pages Series track and field meeting in Bellville but there was no doubting that Ruben Ramolefi sported the widest smile of the evening.

Against all expectations, including his own, the Beijing Olympics 3000m steeplechase finalist became the first man to run a sub four-minute mile on South African soil since 2005 when he clocked 3min 59.69sec.

It was his first experience under the magical barrier and he was stunned. “I just didn’t expect this. My training’s been going very well but to tell the truth it felt easier than I thought it would. When we ran the first lap in 58sec it felt easy and the second lap also felt easy. Obviously I was tired at the end because I’ve been training hard but this is great.

“I’ve been under four minutes for a road mile but you are never 100% sure about those distances!”

The last man to run a sub four-minute mile on local soil was Johan Cronje back in December 2005 when he ran 3:58.81 at Parow.

Semenya, world 800m champion, continues to claw her way back to that sort of form after a lengthy time away from the track while gender issues were being debated by track and field’s governing body and then with niggly injuries.

She lined up for the 400m on Thursday, an event not normally associated with the Tuks athlete. But she still showed that she remains a class act and a late spurt carried her to victory in 54.03sec.

Her mentors are doing her no favours in the publicity stakes though, limiting her post-match interview to a minute during which she didn’t reveal much. “Everything I do now is part of the build-up to defending my world title in Daegu later this year. I don’t race this distance much but it’s also a way of testing how my lower back injury is holding up. I’ll probably run a few races in Europe as part of my World Championships build-up.”

One of the match-ups of the evening was that between 2008 Olympics silver medallist Khotso Mokoena and junior world champion Luvo Manyonga. It was Mokoena’s first appearance in SA action this year and he had to take a back seat to the local youngster who leapt 8.00 with his fourth attempt.

Mokoena, who has been experiencing a niggly thigh injury for some time now was just three centimetres back in second.

“That was surprising,” said Manyonga. “My first jump was only 7.50 and it really didn’t feel good but my winning jump felt really comfortable. It’s encouraging because I know I’ve got lots left in me.”

Mokoena was just happy to be jumping. “It’s great to be back. I haven’t jumped locally for so long now! It’s all going well though with maybe just some imbalance. I can feel that there’s lots of speed but I must cut back on that now and work on the jumping power.”

In the absence of newly crowned SA recordholder LJ van Zyl, Manyonga’s fellow Stellenbosch athlete Cornel Fredericks won the 400m hurdles comfortably and his 49.33 also gave him ease of mind as he bettered the A standard qualifying time of 49.40sec for the World Championships.

The two 5000m events also provided for some good racing. In the women’s race Zintle Xiniwe ran the legs off an impressive line-up to win in 15:55.53. “It’s a personal best for me,” she grinned afterwards. “I love competition, it brings out the best in me. I haven’t run track for some while now so it’s good to be back. It’s also good for my training for the Two Oceans half-marathon next month.”

Transnet’s Violet Rasiboya was closing fast on Xiniwe on the last lap but still ended up five seconds adrift with SA champion Rene Kalmer in an unusual third spot (16:01.33). “I can still feel Sunday’s African cross-country championships in my legs and my marathon training is taking its toll,” said Kalmer.

Kalmer hasn’t been beaten in a local 5000m for some years now but is not perturbed. “My focus is now on marathon training. I run the Prague Marathon in May and I’m not cutting back my training for the other races although I’ll obviously rest up a bit before next week’s world cross-country championships in Spain.”

The men’s 5000m went to the ever-impressive Stephen Mokoka, sixth at African cross-country champs on Sunday. He bossed the race from the gun to win in 13:28.60 after a 60-second final lap and turns his focus on world cross-country champs. “This was a good exercise. I know I’m going to need lots of speed to do as well as I can in Spain.”

In the field events there was no sign of Commonwealth javelin champion and fellow Potchefstroom athlete
Justine Robbeson stepped up to win in 58.78m, not bad going for someone who had been up since 2am in the morning to ensure she made her flight to Cape Town.

Next up for the country’s leading athletes are the Yellow Pages SA championships in Durban on 9-10 April.


Performances like that of Ruben and Caster are bringing athletics back to live and will bring the crowds back to the stadiums. However, its sad to hear that athletes have to get up at 2am, fly to Cape Town at 9am, have to wait at the airport for another 2 hours to be picked up and still have to compete in a very prestigious athletics meeting!!!! C'mon ASA, you guys have to prove that you are much better organisers than the previous lot.