By Mark Etheridge
Our leading athletes showed in Monaco last night that they are up for the challenge at next month’s IAAF World Track and Field championships in Berlin, Germany.
LJ van Zyl, Khotso Mokoena and Ruben Ramolefi all had milestones at the Herculis IAAF Super Grand Prix meeting.
Van Zyl recently turned 24 and his 47.94sec victory was the most impressive as he not only dipped under 48sec for the first time, but he’s now also the fastest 400-metre hurdler of the year now.
The hurdles one-lapper was expected to be a straight shoot-out between the two Americans Bershawn Jackson and Kerron Clement and new Jamaican kid on the block, Isa Phillips.
But running in lane seven, Van Zyl had his rivals in his sight all the way, never panicking, and making use of his customary strong finish to power home to the win. Jackson was so sure of victory that he had already received the victory boquet before having to hand it over to the South African.
Van Zyl now moves up the world rankings from fourth to first but the confidence he will now take to Berlin will be the real first prize. His previous best of 48.05 was set at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne so last night will be well worth the wait. The SA record is Llewellyn Herbert’s 47.81 and Van Zyl no doubt has that mark in his sights.
In the long jump, Mokoena is showing enviable consistency in the run-in to Berlin and notched his eight victory of the season, reaching 8.28m twice in the meeting to easily win his event, ahead of Britain’s Chris Tomlinson (8.11.).
Back on the track and Ramolefi broke the national 3,000m steeplechase record for the second time this year. He first broke it at the national championships in Stellenbosch in March (8min 16.04sec) and last night improved on that with an 8:11.63 to finish third.
But that wasn’t all as national 1,500m champion Johan Cronje also continued his own good form in the middle distance events.
Cronje missed Johan Landsman’s 16-year-old national mark of 3:33.56 by just 0.07sec as he placed ninth in a quick race. He clocked 3:33.63 for the third fastest time yet by a South African and also a personal best by far. His previous quickest was 3:35.11.
The race was won by France’s Mehdi Baal in an impressive 3:30.96 but Cronje can take consolation, not only with his great time, but also by the fact that he was boxed in for a large deal of the race.