With Ruswahl Samaai and Akani Simbine leading the way, defending champions South Africa enjoyed a spectacular afternoon session on day two of the delayed CAA African Senior Championships in Asaba, Nigeria on Thursday.
With the championships finally getting into full swing after travel and logistical chaos, the SA squad put all that behind them to earn double podium places in three events.
In perhaps the most exciting battle of the day, Samaai defended his continental long jump title in style, retaining the crown he lifted in Durban two years ago.
Samaai’s best leap landed at 8.45m to edge out world champion Luvo Manyonga by just 2cm, with his countryman taking the silver medal.
‘We’re competitors but at the end of the day, we try to back each other up,’ Samaai (pictured with the SA flag) said of their friendly rivalry. ‘We focus on showing the world what South Africa is about and what our brotherhood is about.’
Manyonga was full of praise for Samaai, who has taken a back seat to the Commonwealth champion at recent major championships.
‘He didn’t come here to play. He came here to defend his African title and he did that very well,’ Manyonga said. ‘He’s been consistent throughout the year and I’m happy for him.’
In another hard-fought contest held in hot and humid conditions, another Commonwealth Games champion, Akani Simbine, added the African 100m title to his career tally, winning gold in 10.25sec in a race run into a stiff headwind.
‘I came out this year wanting to win the Commonwealth and continental titles, and I ticked them both off, so it’s been a great year for me and I’m really excited ahead of the next couple of seasons,’ said Simbine, who qualified for next month’s IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic with his victorious effort.
Former SA record holder Simon Magakwe also did well, recovering from a poor start to grab the bronze medal in 10.35. ‘I stumbled at the start but I didn’t give up and I managed to catch them,’ Magakwe said. ‘I pushed hard and I’m happy with a podium place.’
In the men’s discus, Victor Hogan and Werner Visser added another double to the national team’s haul. Hogan produced a 60.06m heave to secure a convincing victory, while Visser earned silver with a 58.82m attempt.
Building on her fine form this season, Pretoria’s Rikenette Steenkamp stepped on the podium in the 100m hurdles final, taking the silver medal in 13.18sec. ‘I didn’t have the best start and I hit a hurdle, but it was a good race and I’m happy to have achieved my goal,’ Steenkamp said.
World junior champion Kyle Blignaut was also in superb form, taking a podium spot in the men’s shot put in the absence of countryman Orazio Cremona, who injured a calf muscle during the warm-up before the final. Blignaut delivered a best throw of 19.05m to earn the bronze medal.
In other finals, Jodie Sedres finished fifth in the women’s pole vault (3.70m), Tebogo Mamatu was sixth in the 100m women’s final (11.73) after battling with a hamstring niggle and Margo Coetzee ended sixth in the women’s hammer (58.86m).
In preliminary rounds, Thapelo Phora (men) and Caster Semenya (women) won their 400m semi-finals, while Cornel Fredericks and Le Roux Hamman were second and third respectively in their 400m hurdles heats, with all four athletes progressing to the finals of their events.
The SA men’s 4x100m team won their heat in 39.07sec, to book their place in the relay final.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk and Semenya are among the 13 athletes inducted into the African Athletics Confederation (CAA) Hall of Fame.
The other inductees included five Ethiopians, namely: Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar, Genzebe Dibaba, Kenenisa Bekele and Almaz Ayanawere.
World 800m record holder David Rudisha and Olympic 3,000m champion Ezekiel Kemboi, both from Kenya, were also inducted as well as Vivian Cheruiyot, a gold medallist in the 5,000m in the Rio Olympics. The last inductee was Nigeria’s Tosin Oke.
Photos: Simbine and Magakwe fight it out in the 100m final while Samaai celebrates his gold, by Pius Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images