By Mark Etheridge
Caster Semenya catapulted Team South Africa’s 2016 Olympic medal count into double figures on a hot Saturday evening in Rio as she ran to a predictable 800-metre win.
The 25-year old went into the race as one of the hottest favourites in sporting history and her season’s best of 1min 55.33sec was almost a full second ahead of her closest rival.
Going into the race on the back of an early dinner of guava, paw-paw, grapes and banana, she said: ‘I need this sugar, it really helps me in that last 100m kick!’
And by the time 1min 55.28sec of racing was done and dusted she’d rewritten the season’s record with a sweet world best for the two-lapper.
Forget the fact that it wasn’t close to being one of the top 10 fastest 800m times in history. It was still the fifth fastest time in Olympic history.
Starting in lane three she made sure she was at the front from the get-go and staying out of any argie-bargie.
She hit the bell in 57.59 and it was then that her closest rival (on paper anyway!) Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi did her best to take the sting out of Semenya’s legs. She managed to forge a gap of a few metres going down the back page.
But as they turned for home that same Semenya sting emerged and it was game over as she went on to record a handsome win, and a winning margin of 1.21sec.
The time for world records and the like will come at the remaining meetings on the lucrative European circuit and you can be sure that agent Peet van Zyl and coach Jean Verster’s mobile phones will be ringing off the hook for meeting offers.
Semenya’s medal is in all likelihood, Team SA’s last medal of these Games with only the marathon and men’s mountain bike cross-country to come on the final Sunday of the Games.
But it means that the rainbow nation can relax in the knowledge that it’s the most successful Olympics since re-admission back in Barcelona 24 years ago. The team now sits 27th on the medals table.
‘The pace felt a little bit quick,’ Semenya said afterwards. The first 400m it was just about being patient and doing my best. The coach [Jean Verster] just said I must wait for right moment, we kick that last 400m.
‘It was just fantastic to win in a field like, congratulates to all of them, even the people who went out in the first round but only eight people can ruin the final.
‘I was going to run 400m but the time difference didn’t favour us.. an I think it was a wise decision because the heat here has been crazy.
‘Maybe in future we’ll look I’m still young a 400m will favour me, something I’m still looking at.’
Before now the six medals won in Athens and London (12 and four years ago respectively) was the best return.
And had swimmer Chad le Clos lived up to pre-Games expectations and got gold of his own South Africa could have been even higher than the ?? position they find themselves in on Sunday morning.
In South Africa’s final track event at these Games Elroy Gelant ended 13th in the men’s 5000m with a time of 13:17.47 as Mo Farah defended his Olympic title with a 13;03.30 victory.
Picture of Semenya celebrating her win courtesy of Christiaan Kotze/SASPA