By Mark Etheridge
Western Cape all-rounder Nienka du Toit was the star of the South African athletes on display at the CAA Southern Region Under-20 track and field championships in Lusaka, Zambia.
The product of Bloemhof Girls School in Stellenbosch won three medals for South Africa as the girls and boys in green and gold won a whopping 25 medals on the day.
Heptathlete Du Toit, who also represented South Africa at the last Region 5 Games in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe two years ago, soared to gold in the high jump with a clearance of 1.66 metres and for good measure took silver in the long jump (5.44m) and 100m hurdles (15.05sec)
The combined medals tally saw the squad earning medals over no fewer than 10 events – the men’s 110m hurdles, 400m hurdles, shot put and javelin, as well as the women’s 100m, 400m, 800m, 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles and discus.
The SA team continued where they left off on Saturday’s final day and when all was done and dusted the total medals tally was 45!
That was made up of 26 gold, 16 silver and three bronze medals – not bad going for squad of 32 athletes, an average of more than a medal per athlete.
And again it was Du Toit, pictured right, who came to the party with yet another medal, this time a silver in the shot put (12.77m and a personal best).
‘I’m firstly grateful to have been able to compete in amongst such great talent, and being able to have achieve what I have makes me feel so privileged.
‘I have worked really hard and and had a few bumps along the way but being able to perform as I did I can only thank God,’ she told Road to Rio 2016 as the team prepared to fly back to South Africa.
‘The shot put and high jump were both PB’s so I’m really excited about that and the long jump and hurdles I came second, my time and distance weren’t as good as I wanted them to be but I’m positive everything will come together when I compete next week in Durban at the Senior African Champs.
‘I’m looking forward to compete in the heptathlon next week as I want to try and qualify for World Juniors in Poland.
Since matriculating, she’s gone on to study for a BSc Polymer and Chemistry degree. ‘I’m currently studying in Stellenbosch as my coach Seef le Roux is there… he’s a very important part of my career and without him I would never have got this far. I’m hugely grateful that he is there to help and support me.’
Javeliner Jo-Ané van Dyk (pictured at Lusaka airport before heading for home in the main picture, was a member of Team SA at the Youth Olympics in China two years ago, and the Heidelberg (Western Cape) athletes is also clearly on a high right now. The former Outeniqua High School product threw a PB of 54.03 to better her previous best of 52.42 set only last week at the Tukkies meeting in Pretoria.
Now studying at Potchefstroom University for a BSc in Dietetics, she, like most of South Africa’s leading athletes will concentrate on next week’s African Championships in Durban.
Another highlight of the South African team’s visit was Gift Leotlela’s running an Olympic qualifying distance of 20.47sec as he won the 200m.
Training partner and friend, Clarence Munyai (also TuksSport High School), ran a time 20.45 in the heats to qualify for a third time in the 200 metres for the Games. Unfortunately he was disqualified in the final.
Tamzin Thomas got oh, so close to qualifying in the 100m for Rio. She won in 11.37, just 0.05sec outside the Olympic qualifying standard.
Last year after Leotlela won the 100m at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa in 10.20, Hennie Kriel (Tuks/HPC coach) predicted the young athlete has what it takes to compete at the Olympic Games.
Leotlela also won the 200m at the Youth Games in a time of 20.56s. If it had not been for a tailwind of 2.6m/s from behind, this would have been a new South African youth record.
This year he won the South African junior 100m title in a time of 10.21, just 0.05sec slower than the Olympic qualifying standard of 10.16.
Kriel said what excites him about Leotlela as an athlete is his focus on success. ‘At times it can be quite challenging to coach Gift. He always wants to know what he can do to run that little bit faster.
‘Much will depend on how motivated and hungry for success Gift is. It is important that he should realise he is bound to suffer setbacks. It will be his ability to bounce back from these disappointments that will determine whether he has what it takes to become a true champion in a few years from now.’
These regional Championships were being used as final trials for the national junior team to compete at the World U-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland next month.