By Mark Etheridge
In Brazzaville, Congo
Russell Tucker came, threw and conquered as Team South Africa’s track and field started its competition at the African Games here on Sunday.
On a day which saw the team getting four medals and boosting their total tally to 96, Tucker (pictured above) was one of only just a handful of discus throwers in action. And although he wasn’t too happy with his form or winning distance of 60.41 metres, he was more than happy with the gold.
There were also medals in cycling (silver) and beach volleyball (silver and bronze) pushing the team’s tally up to four shy of the 100-mark.
Back to athletics though. ’I really haven’t had enough time to recover from a left knee injury and today my shoulder wasn’t moving well either so it’s been a tough time lately. And there’s also been lots of studying as well,’ said Tucker, a third-year accounting student in Johannesburg.
‘It’ll take some time to get back to 66m form but the encouraging thing is that I’m not studying next year during Olympic year so my plans are all laid down building up for Rio.’
And he’s full of hope for the Olympics. ‘It’s not about qualifying for Rio, it’s about winning a medal in Rio, that’s the way I’m thinking,’ were the 25-year-old’s thoughts.
‘Anyway, despite me not throwing that far tonight, gold is gold and it’s also my first major medal.’
The only other athletics final involving South Africans on Sunday was the women’s triple jump where Zinzi Chabangu placed fifth in 13.00m and Patience Ntshingila was eighth with a 12.77m best on the night.
On an evening which saw SA athletics fans denied the chance of seeing 200m world championships bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana lining up for the 100m semi-finals, the first final of the evening saw fellow world championships athlete Antonio Alkana clocking 13.60 and being fastest into the 110m hurdles final by 0.26sec.
Jobodwana ran 10.36sec in the morning’s 100m heats but lane six was empty when the first of three semi-finals came under starter’s orders.
‘It’s something in my stomach area, actually more the fascia,’ explained Jobodwana. ‘I didn’t feel it in my heat but it got worse afterwards. It’s a pity because I came here with the intention of racing the 100m. Now I’m off till next year again.’
But it was soon another SA sprinter in action with Roscoe Engel, the man whose nickname is meerkat, who was second in his heat in 10.32 which saw him fifth fastest into the final.
First SA woman in track action was yet another world championships athlete, Justine Palframan. The national 400m champion was in the third of three heats and despite complaining of a lack of energy, looked to conserve her strength well as she coasted home third in 53.56sec to be 12th fastest of 14 qualifiers for the semi-final.
The men’s 400m had Ofentse Mogowane clocking 46.70 for third place in his heat. That put him 14th fastest, as Botswana’s world championships 400m finalist Isaac Makwala was quickest in 45.63.
And 2009 world championships gold medallist Caster Semenya was in 800m action.
She ran in the first of three heats and ran a well-judged race, not allowing herself to be too far off the pace. The field took the bell in 65.71sec and she eased into the lead coming into the home straight to clock 2:07.25, the slowest of the three heat winners.
Final athletics event involving South Africa was the 1500m heats with Dumisane Hlaselo in the second of two events. He was nicely placed in third spot after the first two laps, avoided being brought down in a crash 200m from home and came home in fifth spot (3:49.28), good enough to seem him living to fight another day.
Earlier in the day Reynard Butler rocketed to Team South Africa’s fourth and final cycling medal at the Games.
In brutal hot, dry and dusty conditions, 26-year-old Butler was best of the rest as Rwanda’s Javier Hadi won the men’s road race over 150 kilometres.
His time for the 12 laps was 3hr 29min 37sec, and a victory margin of 31sec over Butler.
Two South Africans failed to finish, one early on and one late on. First to go was Gustav Basson, Friday’s silver medallist in the individual time trial.
He came down heavily and had to be taken to hospital for a check up, with initial suspicions of a dislocated left shoulder and perhaps a cracked jaw bone.
But medical staff diagnosed just bad muscle bruising to the shoulder and jawbone and he had stitches above his eye and in his temple.
‘A guy in front of me went into a manhole, I went into him and that was it,’ said the Potchefstroom rider.
At the tail end of the race it was Emile Jacobs who was ridden into from the side with the finishing straight just around the corner, his bike too badly damaged to continue.
The early work was down by HB Kruger who was one of a group of nine who managed to get away and build up a lead of two minutes at one stage.
A look at the race through the silver medallist’s eyes: ‘At the beginning it was a bit chaotic with the guys attacking and all the crashes. After Gustav’s crash we were a bit underpowered with one guy less and we had to work extra.
’We were happy with HB in the breakaway but would have preferred one more guy up there. When we heard HB was off the pace we panicked a bit and then put Thula [Mxenge] up front and he did a huge amount of good work up front for about half a lap and that saw the first group starting to disintegrate.
‘Everyone except the Rwandan came back together and we prepared for a bunch sprint. I hadn’t felt great in the beginning but I got stronger as a I managed myself quite well. So I told Shaun-Nick [Bester] that I was good and him and HB looked after me.
‘I was on HB’s wheel and we decided to take the inside line around the final corner 350m from the line, a bit risky because there was a slope or a drainage feature there but it meant that we had a nice line as the others went around the outside and it turned out to be the perfect spot.’
Reflecting on his medal, the East Londoner now based in Johannesburg said: ‘Yeah, I’d say this is pretty much the best medal I’ve got so far in my career.’
Next up? ‘I’ll head home and start training again, with my biggest one probably being Amashovashova in Durban next month.’
Final placings for the other SA readers were: sixth Bester (same time as the leaders), ninth Kruger (s.t.) and 50th Mxenge 3:34.54.
Seventy-one riders finished the race with a rather high 33 non-finishers.
The sand-loving code bagged two medals on the final day of their competition.
The men’s combo of Clinton Stemmet and Leo Williams were up against Rwanda and went down 2-0 to get bronze.
There’s no doubting that the stomach ailment suffered by Williams on Saturday meant that he was not firing on all cylinders.
The women lost to Nigeria by the same score in the gold-silver medal match-up.
Two of the team’s three Commonwealth Games medallists in this code went out on the first day’s competition at the Talangai Hall in town.
Bronze medallists Jacques van Zyl (73kg) and Siyabulela Mabulu went out in the first and fourth round respectively.
Mabulu, fighting in the 66kg category, had a first round bye, won his second round and then lost his third round tie to Libya to go into the repecharge where he lost against Congo.
Commonwealth gold medallist Zack Piontek is scheduled to be in action in the -90kg division on Monday.