Caster Semenya crushed a quality field to finally break Zola Pieterse’s 34-year-old national 1500 metre-record to win the women’s 1500m gold medal on Tuesday, writes MARK ETHERIDGE in Gold Coast, Australia.
Semenya only took the lead with 200m to go but her move was swift and decisive as she breezed past Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech.
Once the gap was made, the gold was hers and the only question was whether Pieterse’s mark would go.
It was mighty close but as Semenya crossed the line in 4min 00.72sec, just 0.09 sec inside the time Pieterse ― also an athlete in a generation ― ran in Port Elizabeth in March, 1984.
The victory means that Semenya is now a double Olympic 800m champion, three-time world 800m champion, and now a Commonwealth champion.
Also in her wake was Kenyan Hellen Obiri’s Games record set four years ago in Glasgow, Scotland. That mark stood at what now looks a pedestrian 4:04.43.
Such was the keenness of competition with Semenya in the field that of the top seven athletes, only Scotland’s Eilish McColgan failed to run a personal best or at least a season’s best.
The race started 11 minutes late due to what stadium announcers called a ‘technical issue’ but once the gun went it was all systems go!
The 27-year old Semenya was content to bide her time and sat in fifth as they cross the start/finish line. With two laps to go, she was still fifth and the leaders went through 800m in 2:10.81.
At the bell, with the clock reading just over three minutes, she’d nudged her way up to third spot.
And then it was time for business, as she noticeably turned on the afterburners. Chepkoech started her kick from home from a long way out but she only gained a few metres and at 200m it was Caster the cruise missile as she swung around the final bend, victory a formality but only the unfinished business of the record which she ran down with determination.
After her race Semenya said she realised Pieterse’s mark was hers: ‘I knew from 800m that it was on. I just had to wait and only move with 250m to go because I didn’t want to mess up my fellow African’s race.
‘When we hit the last lap I knew for sure it was gone if I just maintained that pace.’
And she says there’s plenty left in the tank for her speciality 800m race. ‘Actually, I’m more of a middle-distance runner now and not just an 800m runner. I also know I can go under 4min for 1500m now, I just need to fix a few errors in training and be patient – the times will come.’
‘Today was all about what we’ve been training for. We’ve been training at both fast and slow pace so that we can master any pace needed. At the moment it’s working well for us, we can manage paced runs for a long time now.’
Asked about the delayed start she said: ‘I think it was the rain that interfered with the starting gun’s cables so it can’t go off… you get a bit frustrated because you’re already been warmed up.but things like this you can’t control.’
Runner-up Chepkoech was timed at 4:03.09 with Welsh athlete Melissa Courtney a surprise third in 4:03.44
Her gold is South Africa’s ninth of the Games and it takes the rainbow nation up to fifth spot with a total of 21. Of the medals, track and field and swimming have provided all but four of them with the others coming from bowls (two), triathlon and weightlifting.
The only other South African in finals action was Antonio Alkana.
The track was drenched with rain just before the men’s 110-metre hurdles final. And although the Western Cape ace would probably have wished he could take some of the precious fluid back to his drought-stricken province, he could only splash his way to fifth spot in 13.49sec.
That time was slower than his heat although he beat Andrew Pozzi, the man who won their heat on Monday.
‘I hit a hurdle early on and that threw me a bit,’ said Alkana. ‘You have to be smooth in such a technical event as this and you can’t make up. I’ll have to go and look at the replay.’
Alkana had been targeting a medal to open up invitations in Europe later this year. ‘Making the final is still great but remember the French and Americans weren’t here and they’re back in the mix in Europe.’
Not one to make excuses, Alkana had perfect reason to not feel entirely ready before Monday’s showdown. ‘January was a bad month for me. I tore my hamstring on the second and then on the 26th my mom passed away, so it was tough both physically and mentally.’
Earlier in the day, it had mostly been plain sailing for the South African athletes involved in heat action.
Except though for the two 400m hurdles athletes. Competing at opposite ends of the experience spectrum, Constant Pretorius and LJ van Zyl were unable to get past the heat stages.
It was Pretorius’ first Games and Van Zyl’s fourth but times of 49.71 and 50.98 respectively saw them taking no further part in proceedings.
For the rest, long jumpers Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai both needed just one leap to reach the final on Tuesday evening.
Wenda Nel looked in supreme form to reach her 400m hurdles final, qualifying as second quickest and was an excited athlete as she looked ahead. ‘In the end, I saw my spot was booked and safe so I just ran through the finish line.
‘Looking back at the time I’d say yes I could easily have run a personal best today but I always say, never regret what you’ve done, take the most out of it and then you build from there.’
South Africa’s two 200m sprinters also had no problems, both winning their heats in impressive fashion. Clarence Munyai was off first in heat six and won in 20.95.
‘I just did enough to get to the semis. It’s a fast track, a bit like London so today was all about cruise control and be ready for the semi.’
Anaso Jobodwana, had a tight hamstring going into the race but showed no effects whatsoever and if anything had time to look around in his heats. His time was a tad quicker than Munyai’s at 20.89.
‘I did a stupid thing by getting to Gold Coast at 5am and then hitting the track at 10pm and I felt my hamstring was very tight but luckily I didn’t feel it at all in the heat so I’m into the semi’s and we’ll take it from there.’
… More to follow.