By Mark Etheridge
World champion six years ago, Caster Semenya powered into the semi-finals of the women’s 800-metre at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China on Wednesday.
She was also joined in the advancement stakes by triple jumper Khotso Mokoena.
Semenya ran the first of six heats and ended third in 1min 59.59sec behind Belarussia’s Marina Arzamasova (1:58.69) and Britain’s Lynsey Sharp (1:58.98). The first three in each heat went through automatically and what will be encouraging for Semenya and the team’s medals chances are that it was a season’s best for her and her fastest time in two years.
Semenya herself was surprised by her time, telling IAAF.org through a video interview: ‘The race was a bit quick for me, I wasn’t expecting a very fast race in the heat, I was expecting something around 2:01-2:02 but the girls ran a brave race because they want to go through. I am happy that I dipped under two minutes, it is going to be tough throughout the championship, so I will try my best.’
World champion in 2009, Semenya also won world championships silver in 2011 in Daegu, and took silver at the 2012 London Olympics.
Fastest qualifiers in the women’s two-lapper were the first three in Semenya’s heat (all three of whom set season’s bests) and next best was Ukraine’s Nataliia Lupu (1:59.62).
Twenty-six women went through to the semi-finals.
In the triple jump 2008 Beijing Olympics long jump silver medallist Khotso Mokoena was out to make up for his failure in the long jump at these championships. Lining up in Group B, Mokoena opened with a 16.78m and replicated that with the same distance in his third and final leap.
There were a few anxious moments though as he failed to make the automatic 17m qualifying distance. Only five athletes did that on the morning and Mokoena’s jump was 10th best of 12 qualifiers.
The only other SA athlete in morning action was Antonio Alkana in his first senior World Championships. He ran the fifth and final heat of the 110m hurdles. The Western Cape athlete had an extremely slow start and although he accelerated well he could only end sixth in 13.63sec (outside his personal best 13.47) as American Aries Merritt won in 13.25. Still, the experience will stand him in good stead going forward.
Afternoon action will hopefully bring South Africa’s first medal of the championships with Wayde van Niekerk certainly looking the country’s best chance right now. He lines up in the 400m hurdles final at 3.25pm South African time.
Also in action is Wenda Nel in the 400m hurdles final, Anaso Jobodwana and Akani Simbine are in the 200m semi-finals, while Justine Palframan will be hoping to make up for her disappointment in not going through in 400m when she tackles the 200m heats.