By Mark Etheridge
in Brazzaville, Congo
Track athletes Antonio Alkana and Caster Semenya both aced gold medals to push Team South Africa’s medal tally over the hundred mark at the African Games here on Monday.
Alkana, pictured shortly after his golden run, sprinted and leapt his way to victory in the 110-metre hurdles while Semenya blew the 800m field away in the two-lap final.
The track and field section added another three bronze medals to the team tally while there was also a judo bronze from Zack Piontek. The six medals mean Team SA’s total medal count stands at 102.
Alkana was fastest qualifier into the final and took off like a man possessed as he was never headed in clocking a winning time of 13.32 seconds.
That’s a huge personal best for the Blue Downs, Western Cape athlete and he wore a smile all the way back to Cape Town as he waiting in the doping control room.
His previous best was the 13.47 he ran in Turku, Finland to qualify for this year’s World Championships. ‘I knew I could run exactly this time. I’ve done it time and time again in training. My coach Marcel Otto is very good with his hand-timing and he has often had me running times which convert to exactly 13.32. I have told myself for ages that I can do it electronically.’
As for his race tactics: ‘I knew the Algerian and Nigerian next to me have good starts to I knew I had to get out fast.’
And that’s exactly what happened as Lyes Mokdell (ALG) and Tyrone Adkins (NGR) had to settle for silver (13:49) and bronze (13.54) respectively.
And this win could just be the confidence booster he needed. ‘There are always things I can improve on. My trailing leg really needs to improve so I’m confident I can go faster.
‘This is definitely the most important medal of my career and I’d like to dedicate it to my five-year-old son, Logan.
‘Now I’m going to take a nice break and will only get back into training next year, probably at the end of March.’
Just 15 minutes after Alkana’s annexing of gold and Semenya had the Team SA fans in the Stade D’Unite out of their chairs as she swept to a 2min 01.00sec win.
It was a confident Caster who started off quicker than has been the case in her recent races. She lay second after 200m and stayed up front as the bell for the final lap sounded at exactly 60sec.
She was passed by around three athletes with 200m to go but it wasn’t for long as the No475 vest came around the outside like a 747 Boeing gaining momentum on the runway.
She hit the front as they hit the finishing straight and never looked like being beaten as she ended her season on a high.
‘I knew I had to go off quite quickly because I was in lane one and I wanted a good look in the beginning,’ she said afterwards.
‘I was happy to wait for that last 200m because I wasn’t really worried about anyone in particular in this field. I’ve felt good at these Games and not concerned about fast times, it was the medal that counted.
‘When I came around the outside of that last bend it was like a sling-shot throwing me to the front,’ she grinned.
‘My two main goals this year were world champs and these Games – to make it to the final at worlds and to get this medal here. It’s also nice to get a bit of consistency going, with times around the 2min mark.
‘Now it’s back to the books and my sports science studies in Potchefstroom.’
The other medals that came SA’s way were Jaco Engelbrecht’s bronze in the shot put as his best heave of 19.55m saw him lying second at one stage to eventual winner, Congo’s Elemba Waka (20.25) but an Egyptian rival overtook him in the final stages.
Then there was another bronze for Fredriech Pretorius in the decathlon. ‘I’m not too excited about my provisional score of 7250 because my best is 7791 but it’s still a medal,’ said Pretorius.
‘A good point was that I threw a personal best in the javelin and finally nailed 60m compared to my previous best of 58.81.
‘None of the guys had their own poles for the pole vault so all eight competitors had to use the Zimbabwe guy’s pole and eventually it snapped as he was using his own pole!’
The final bronze of the night went to Julia du Plessis in the high jump as she cleared 1.80m as Seychellois athlete Lissa Labiche won with 1.91m. Geraldine King was eighth with 1.70m.
Other action saw Dumisane Hlaselo fade to 10th (3:51.64) in the 1500m final and in another final Roscoe Engel was fourth in the 100m final (10.45) as Cote d’Ivoire’s Ben Youssef Meite won in 10.04.
The women’s 100m final went to another CIV athlete, Maree Josee Talou who won in 11.03.
Ofentse Mogowane narrowly missing out on the 400m final when he clocked 45.75 to end third in his semi-final as only the first two went through automatically.
That saw him end ninth of 17 starters and an agonising 0.09sec from going through as a fastest loser. Botswana’s Isaac Makwaala was fastest into the final with a 44.87 clocking.
Justine Palframan also missed out on the 400m final as she ended fifth in her semi-final (52.75) and the Stellenbosch based youngster is clearly in desperate need of a rest.
‘My first 200m were better than yesterday but I just had nothing today, physically or mentally and need to recuperate.’
Good news for her studies though is that she’ll be helping para-athletics coach Karin le Roux in a ‘shadowing’ capacity for the remainder of the Games and this is sure to be to the benefit of both her and the para-athletes.
First race with SA action were the T12 para-athletics semi-finals and both SA athletes will contest the final. First, Jonathan Ntutu won in 22.89 and he was followed by fellow 2012 Paralympian Hilton Langenhoven with a 1 22.81 victory.
And also in action early on in the evening was Claudia Heunis in the women’s 100m hurdles heats. She ended fourth with 13.54 but lives to fight another day as she was one of the fastest losers.
‘I really messed up today but will bring my A Game to the final,’ she said.
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Piontek had a bye into the second round where he came up against Zambia’s Edward Kamwandi.
But the Zambian offered little resistance and within a minute of the start he was into the quarter-final, winning by ippon, with a yokotoemaga throw. That saw him into the quarter-final where he took on Ghana’s Victo Ahiavor.
His opponent proved to be extremely strong but not very correct in the technical aspects of judo and Piontek was soon ahead as Ahiavor picked up a shido (penalty) in the first minute.
Thirty seconds later and both fighters had another shido against their name, one for Piontek and two for the Ghanaian.
The deciding moment came just 12 seconds later as Piontek was able to come up with the ippon moment, winning with an uchi-mata throw.
The semi-final was against Tunisia’s Oussam Snoussi and although Pretoria’s Piontek was up with a yuko and a few shido’s against his opponent’s names the north African finally shaded a low-scoring match.
‘He did his homework well,’ said Piontek. ‘He came prepared for my grips. OK, he ran away a lot but he fought well tactically. We are both left-handed fighters which is always harder to prepare for.’
On to the bronze medal match where Piontek took on Tunisia’s Ahmed Lahmadi.
‘I started off with a firm game plan,’ he said in the Athletes’ Village after his fight.
‘His game tactics are often to win by making his opponents concede shido’s. So our plan was to get points early and make him fight.
‘I got a low-scoring yuko early on and then I had him in a 10-15sec hold which gave me another yuko.
‘Then it became quite tactical and he caught me in a grip but I escaped and then had him in a 15-20sec hold which gave me a waza-ari score and he also had two shido’s to my one.
‘The fight then slowed down quite a bit and I just stayed active. I could see in his eyes that he was not really in the fight and he was breathing heavily and not taking too many chances. It was tough out there but I was the stronger fighter and I think I was just smarter on the night.’
Piontek now returns to Pretoria and he and fellow Games judoka Jacques van Zyl will sit down with coach Nikola Fillipov and are hopefully heading for South Korea and Japan towards the end of the year for two tournaments and a training camp as the race for Rio Olympics ranking points hots up.
Banyana Banyana drew the short end of the stick on Monday and will take no further part in the tournament.
That’s because after them, Cameroon and Ghana had played out their pool matches only Cameroon had a victory and Banyana and Ghana’s points and goal difference was exactly the same.
Said manager and video analyst Shilene Booysen. ‘It came down to us and Ghana choosing one of two sealed envelopes and only one had a ticket through to the final and we got the wrong envelope.
‘But that’s the way things happen. It’s been done before in the Africa Cup of Nations and we have to accept it. Our fate was in our own hands and it should never have come down to this.
‘Now we will just carry on training hard for our Olympic qualifying matches against Equatorial Guinea.’