The fact that South African men’s sprinting is going through a boom period was emphatically underlined at the Tokyo Stadium on Tuesday night, writes GARY LEMKE.
Although there won’t be any South Africans in the men’s 200m Olympic final on Wednesday night, there’s plenty to look forward to. Starting with next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, for instance.
The 20-year-old Shaun Maswanganyi, who resides in Houston, Texas, has the world at his feet – quite literally. He had reached the semi-finals of the 100m and doubled up by achieving the same in the 200m, which is his preferred event.
Having qualified in the morning for the semi-finals in 20.58sec, he shaved 0.40 off that time in stopping the clock in 20.18 in the evening. That placed him fourth behind Canada’s Andre De Grasse and American Kenneth Bednarek. It was the quickest of the three semi-finals and both De Grasse and Bednarek go into the final and are favourites to fight out the gold medal.
Although he was placed 10th overall out of 24 speedsters in the semi-finals, Maswanganyi was close to booking his place in the eight-man elite field on the biggest stage of all. Throw in the stat that his personal best is a 20.10, equalling that time on Tuesday night would have got him a place in the list of finalists.
That’s how small the margins are. At next year’s Commonwealth Games you can take out the Americans – three of which occupy the first six places on the 200m final time sheets here, which shows what there is to look forward to when it comes to the 20-year-old Maswanganyi.
All three entrants in the men’s 100m reached the semi-final, as did all three in the longer 200m sprint. You can’t get any better than a 100% strike rate.
Anaso Jobodwana had come to Tokyo with a season’s best of 20.72 and a 20.78 timing in the morning heats had been good enough to earn him a place in the semi-final.
Although in contention around the bend, he was swallowed up by his rivals in the straight with no one going better than American Erriyon Knighton, who won the semi-final in 20.02. Jobodwana crossed in 20.88.
Clarence Munyai was next up and produced his fastest performance of the year: 20.49. However, this had him cross the line in sixth position in an extraordinary race where the first three finishers were all credited with a 19.99 timing.
It needs to be pointed out that Munyai is still only 23 and the national record holder in the 200m.
Akani Simbine, who progressed to finish fourth in 9.93 in the 100m final, is the highest profile of the group, but others here at Tokyo have stuck their hands up to be counted as formidable forces.
Simbine was one of a trio to reach the men’s 100m semi-finals – the other two being Gift Leotlela and Maswanganyi – and in the longer sprint it was Munyai, Jobodwana and again Maswanganyi who qualified for the semi-finals.
While it augurs well for the future of South African sprinting, this is the now and each member of the sprint team has left an indelible impression.The men’s 4x100m relay springs into focus as a very real medal possibility later in the week.
OTHER TRACK ATHLETICS ON TUESDAY NIGHT
MEN’S 110M HURDLES
Antonio Alkana went off in the final of five 110m hurdles heats knowing that he needed to finish in the first four to automatically qualify for the semi-finals. However, a fifth-place finish could suffice it it was one of the four fastest across the heats of those who hadn’t automatically qualified.
With four of his seven opponents having a higher world ranking than him, the 31-year-old knew he was in what is called a ‘hot’ heat.
He got away quickly, in fact no one reacted faster out the blocks than him, but he clipped the second hurdle and his progress was slowed as he clipped a couple more. However, he ran through the line in 13.55sec, which was a season’s best, but in this field it placed him sixth and 22nd on the time sheets and he paid the price for being in a heat when there were five semi-final qualifiers.
Lesiba Mashela took to the track in the second of the men’s heats and coming into his first Olympics with a season’s best – and PB – of 13min 11.65sec. The bar for qualification to the final was set high, with only the first five across the line from each of the two heats, plus the next five quickest qualifying for the final. The 30-year-old started promisingly, sitting with the lead bunch as he went through 1000m in 2:51.1. He then bravely took the lead and held it for two laps as he led the field through 2000m in 5:36.1. Mashele continued to fight as he sat in fifth after 3000m (his time 8:21.2), before finding the pace hot over the last five laps. He slipped to 12th (11.01.6) after 4000m and crossed the finish in 15th in 13:48.3, in a heat won by Spain’s Mohamed Katir in 13:30.10.
Photo: Anton Geyser