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Semenya shows super form ahead of Commonwealth Games

Olympic and world 800-metre champion Caster Semenya showed she’s in fine form for next month’s Commonwealth Games in Australia as she won the 1500m event at Thursday’s Liquid Telecom Athletics Grand Prix Series in Paarl.

In fact, it was probably only the windy conditions that prevented the middle-distance ace from eclipsing the 34-year-old SA record at the third and final leg of the series, hosted at the Dal Josaphat Stadium.

The record of 4min 01.80sec still belongs to Zola Budd-Pieterse, set in Port Elizabeth almost 34 years to the day in 1984.

Semenya stopped the clocks at 4:02.50, less than a second outside the mark.

‘We made sure of running a good rhythm and when I heard the announcer say in the final 200m I was one second out [off record pace], I really pushed hard. It’s a pity I did not get the record, but this race showed me just where I am in my training and it’s all on track,’ said Semenya after her effort.

Semenya had United States-based Dominique Scott chase her until she too had to give way to the metronomic pace set by Semenya with 300m to go.

‘I was really happy with this run,’ said Scott who won over this distance at the recent SA Championships in Pretoria. ‘I said I’d try and stick with Caster for as long as possible and if I could beat my indoor best of 4:07.25 I would be extremely happy.’

Scott’s outdoor PB is 4:08.04 and she narrowly missed that after crossing the line as runner-up in 4:08.61.

It was an evening of great performances as recently crowned SA 200m champion Luxolo Adams (above) dipped former SA 200m record holder Anaso Jobodwana on the line. Adams had brought his personal best down to 20.08 at the national championships – from 20.45sec.

On Thursday he lowered that time again, this time to an impressive 20.01 ahead of Jobodwana’s 20.07.

‘I’m in good shape right now. Two PB’s in the space of a week is really encouraging,’ said the Eastern Cape athlete.

Ruswahl Samaai had not competed in Paarl, his hometown, for seven long years. The current World Championship and 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist did not disappoint by soaring to his second best performance in the long jump, landing at 8.39 metres.

At the pre-event press conference, Samaai (also part of Team SA for the Gold Coast) had been really excited to compete in front of his home crowd and had made no secret of it.

‘It’s been seven years since I competed here. I’m really excited to be competing at home.’

The crowd got right behind Samaai and the rest of the field in front of the packed pavilion. Samaai’s leap is the second best in the world this year, behind Cuba’s world indoor champion, Juan Miguel Echevarria’s 8.40m.

‘I’m tired of being second all the time. My goal is to become the No1 long jumper in SA and the world,’ said Samaai.

South African 100m record holder, Akani Simbine closed out the evening’s performances with a clinical 10.08 win.

‘I stumbled a bit in the last 20m, but I’m 96% happy with my run. There are still some small things to work on, but I’m happy where I am, especially after having missed out on defending my SA title,’ said Simbine.

Simbine had to withdraw from the semi-finals at national championships, after experiencing a cramp in his hamstring, so this race was a vital confidence-booster as one of his final preparations for the Commonwealth Games which will be held between 4-15 April.

Pictures of Semenya and Scott, Jobodwana and Adams and Samaai, all courtesy of Roger Sedres/ImageSA