By Mark Etheridge
While it was a breathtaking performance by Caster Semenya to win the 800-metres at Friday’s Diamond League in Monaco, the bad news for her Rio Olympics rivals is that she was barely breathless after a personal-best performance.
Both she and Wayde van Niekerk (400m) were in imperious display as they won gold for South Africa in two of the events that Team SA will target for glory in Rio.
Semenya was the pick of the South Africans on display, beating a field that will be very similar to that she’ll face in Rio next month.
Semenya set the pace from the gun, going through the gun in 56.04sec and only starting to put the pedal down on the final bend.
She ended up running the last 200m in 28-seconds but it was the last 80m that were particularly impressive as she ripped the heart out any possible comeback the the field.
Her winning time of 1:55.33 was a comfortable personal best for her, as well as a natinal record, eclipsing her 1:55.45 when she grabbed gold at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany. Importantly it’s also a world-leading time in the two-lapper this year.
As for Van Niekerk it was business as usual as he stamped his authority on the field, slowly turning the screws on his rivals.
The birthday boy clocked 44.12 but will be hoping for a belated birthday present in Rio
‘It was a tough race but I’m taking every small thing as it comes,’ Van Niekerk said afterwards. ‘This is another opportunity I am given to fine tune my racing. Hopefully by the time the Olympics come, I’ll be ready.’
He told Road to Rio 2016: ‘There’s still room for improvement so it’s back to training again.’
A whole host of other Rio-bound South African athletes were in action on Friday night, an occasion that saw spectator numbers significantly down after the tragedy in neighbouring Nice the previous night.
The hurdles events saw Antonio Alkana and Wenda Nel in action over 110 and 400m respetively.
Alkana took seventh in his race in 13.66 as Spain’s Orlando Ortega won in 13.04.
But the Capetonian wasn’t exactly happy with his form: ‘My race had me lined up with some great guys just fresh from the national and European trials. I had a bad race even though I was ready to run… so now I have to look back at what I did wrong and try to fix it for my next race,’ he told Road to Rio 2016.
‘My landing over the hurdles is were it went wrong so I never got to the point of sprinting.’
As for Nel, she took fourth spot in the one-lap hurdles. Britain’s Eilidh Doyle won in an impressive 54.09 while Nel slotted in at fourth in 54.93 just behind former training partner Sara Slott Petersen of Denmark who grabbed the last podium place.
Said coach Irma Reyneke who will accompany her charge (and others!) to Rio next month: ‘I’m very satisfied with the constant nature of her racing right now. Her time was precisely the same as she ran at World Championships final in Berlin. If a person runs that consistently it’s good.
‘It can be a bit frustrating sometimes but we must be patient and not force things… everything happens in its own time.’
Also in sprint action was national record-holder Carina Horn and the Austrian based ace will be happy after her pre-race circumstances.
She took third in 11.14 (her personal best is 11.14) as Dutch powerhouse Dafne Schippers won in 10.94 from Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica (11.12).
‘Getting to Monaco I was really up against it,’ she told Road to Rio 2016.
‘On Wednesday I had to change my flight as I hadn’t got my passport back from fixing my visa to London for the Diamond League. My flight was then at 9pm on Thursday and luckily at 2pm I got my passport back. Then my flight was delayed. I landed in Nice at 11pm, half an hour after those attacks. So I only got into my hotel at 1am on Friday.
‘It was all very stressful with minimal sleep so actually I’m very happy with my run after all the circumstances.’
Last of the track events saw a big night for little Dominique Scott-Efurd as she made her Diamond League debut in the 3000m.
And the Capetonian, now based in the US, showed little signs of nerves as she zipped around the seven and a half laps to end eighth in a personal best 8:46.65 as Hellen Onsando Obiri led a Kenyan 1-2-3 in 8:24.27.
She told Road to Rio 2016: ‘Last night I was able to live out one of my dreams of competing in a Diamond League Meeting. And it wasn’t just any diamond league – it was the Monaco Diamond League.
’It was a very special evening competing in the historic stadium with thousands of people cheering. I loved representing my new sponsor adidas for the first time and was able to walk away with a six-second PB of 8:46. It was a race that I will never forget!’
The field events saw Olympian Sunette Viljoen and Commonwealth Games medallist Ruswahl Samaai in javelin and long jump action respectively.
Neither will be that happy with their effort though. Viljoen finished fifth but it’s the distance of 60.17 she would like to have seen being a lot further. Belarusian Tatiana Khaladovich won in 65.52.
Viljoen opened with a 59.93, then came the 60.17 and her third and final throw was a 54.08.
Then Samaai (who has a personal best of 8.38m) looked to have his rhythm a bit out of joint as he opened with a 7.93m effort and was unable to improve on that as Jamaica’s Damar Forbes won with an 8.23m best on the night.