By Mark Etheridge
The South African team flexed their track and field muscles to good effect on day two of the African Athletics Championships in Durban on Thursday.
Another four gold medals thudded into the team’s war chest after Stephen Mokoka (10,000m) and Jaco Engelbrecht (shot put) had got the team’s medal campaign up and running on Wednesday.
On Thursday there were golds for Claudia Heunis on the track (100m hurdles) with the other three all coming in field events, courtesy of the multi-talented Fredriech Pretorius in the decathlon (pictured above, Victor Hogan in the discus and Ruswahl Samaai in the long jump.
The performance by Pretorius is particularly impressive as he amassed a winning total and personal best of 7780 points to beat fellow 2014 Commonwealth Games team-member and 2012 Olympian Willem Coertzen (7196) into third spot. Ghana’s Atsu Nyamadi was second in 7501.
Just two weeks ago Pretorius was in the operating theatre for surgery on a troublesome elbow shortly after a big meeting in Gotzis, Austria.
‘The stitches are still in his elbow, what a champ,’ enthused a proud couch, Irma Reyneke after her charge’s efforts.
‘He also ran a four-second personal best in the 1500m. He could barely train after the Gotzis meeting in late May and he really felt it in the javelin here.
‘The operation was to try and relieve a thickened nerve in the elbow and although we’re not 100% sure of the success we just had to take chance to compete here. He may well have to have follow up surgery next week.’
As for Hogan he was happy but not over the moon.
Despite winning with a 61.68m effort the big Kleinmond character knows he can do a whole lot better (he’s already qualified for the Rio Olympics later this year).
‘Today just wasn’t a day for good results in the discus, we really had bad wind conditions, directly from behind which isn’t great,’ he told Road to Rio 2016.
‘All I came to do here was win that African title for the third time because I knew I wasn’t going to throw that far. Russel Tucker made it hard work but I like the fight.’
Tucker took silver in 61.44m.
Hogan didn’t have the best build-up to these Championships being sick in bed two weeks ago and barely able to train.
Now he’ll head down to Stellenbosch and hook up with coach Kaai Preller for another month’s intensive training. ‘It actually feels like I’ve almost rested for 10 days so now I’m going to train strong and be ready for some more bombs. I really wasn’t worried about the distance today. I know I’m in good shape and now I’ll start picking it up for the Games.’
Samaai, the current national champion after SA Championships in Stellenbosch in April, had an impressive win in the long jump with a leap of 8.40m.
That’s a personal best by two centimetres after the 8.38m he jumped in Rabat, Morocco last month. And there was also a solid silver effort from countryman and former world junior champion Luvo Manyonga who reached 8.23m on Thursday.
South Africa’s only gold on the track went the way of Heunis who ran 13.35sec in the women’s 100m hurdles with fellow South African Maryke Brits taking bronze in 13.47.
‘What a privilege and honour it is to be crowned African champion,’ Heunis told Road to Rio 2016. ‘The women’s 100m hurdles has become very strongly contested in Africa over the last few years and to have three SA girls in the final shows that our athletics is busy fighting their way back to the top.
‘I ran a very poor heat on Wednesday, even though I won and my coach told me that there’s no room for error in the final… the athlete that makes a mistake will be out.
‘So before my final I just tried to focus on my own race and not on the other athletes. I said to myself I must just keep things together and run a clean race…’
Previously coached by former men’s 110m hurdles champion Shaun Bownes, her feat is all the more remarkable as she moved camp to Hennie Kriel around a month ago. When she’s not on the track she manages the daily and financial operations of a busy earth-moving company
‘The plan was to qualify for this year’s Olympics but sadly that hasn’t happen, so it’s back to the drawing board where we’ll start working towards next year’s World Championships.’
But there was also medal success in the two 100m sprints for South Africa.National record-holder Akani Simbine took third in the final with a solid 10.05sec behind Cote D’Ivoire’s Ben Youssef Meite who dashed under 10sec with a 9.95sec win.
And then joint women’s 100m record holder Carina Horn was just 0.01sec outside her personal best as she clocked 11.07 behind CIV’s Murielle Ahoure who went under the 11sec barrier (10.99).
‘There’s still plenty of room for improvement, there always is. But it was great, I could have had a better start but overall I’m happy,’ said Horn.
Looking ahead and the 400m hurdles duo of LJ van Zyl and Cornal Hendricks couldn’t be separated in heat action.
Both ended second in the first and second heat respectively with the identical time of 49.94sec. And while Van Zyl’s spot on Team SA for Rio is assured, Fredericks still has to nail a qualifying time by 11 July to stand a chance for final selection.
In the 800m, World Student Games bronze medallist, Rynardt van Rensburg booked his spot in Friday’s final with a 1:50.55 runners-up spot to Botswana’s Nijel Amos in the first semi-final. Amos clocked 1:49.91 in the slower of two heats.
The other heat saw Mozambique’s Albertino Mamba win in 1:48.36 as South African champion Jacob Rozani took third in 1:48.48.
Van Rensburg told Road to Rio 2016: ‘I’m just happy to make my first African Champs final. A small step in the right direction. I felt strong and I’m exited to be in my first African Champs Final. I’ll run as hard and smart as I can to try and get a medal and it will be a big day for me.’
All pictures courtesy of Roger Sedres/ImageSA