By Mark Etheridge
South Africans awoke on Thursday to a golden dawn after Wayde van Niekerk’s 400-metre World Championships victory on Wednesday, and the news that Johan Cronje had moved into the 1500m semi-finals in China.
While Van Niekerk was still wide awake in his hotel room just before the Beijing sunrise, Cronje would have been preparing for his morning heats of the metric mile.
The new world champion had been discharged from hospital late in the evening after collapsing deadbeat from his champion efforts. And by all accounts his phone was also badly in need of a charge.
‘I left it all out on the track tonight,’ 2015’s unbeaten athlete told Road to Rio 2016 in the wee hours. ‘I can’t even answer questions anymore, my phone is just too busy!’
Back to Cronje, whose bronze medal was South Africa’s only medal of the championships in Moscow two years ago.
The 33-year-old won’t mind being called one of the veterans of the team, having attended his first Olympics in Athens 11 years ago when Van Niekerk wasn’t even a teenager yet.
Running the first of three heats he did just enough to ensure his progression, taking sixth spot in 3min 43.29sec as Kenya’s Elijah Motonei Manangoi won in 3:42.57.
The first six in each heat gained automatic qualification. Fastest of the three semi-finalists was Manangoi’s fellow Kenyan Silas Kiplagat in 3:38.13 while Cronje was actually the slowest of the 24 to go through to the semi-finals. All of which meant he would have used minimum energy in going through.
Cronje’s team-mate Dumisani Hlaselo wasn’t as fortunate though, and despite running a 3:40.25 for ninth in his heat it wasn’t enough on the night.
It also wasn’t a good night in the men’s discus as big Victor Hogan failed to make the final. He threw in the A Group and after opening with a 62.41m effort was unable to improve on that with another throw of 62.33.
That placed him eighth as Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres lead the group with a 65.77 heave. Anything over 65m gained automatic qualification.
Hogan would have been left distraught on finding out he was the first to miss out on the final his distance placing 13th as 12 went through. He was just seven centimetres shy of being part of the final.
Afternoon action (SA time) has five South Africans in action.
First of them will be Khotso Mokoena. After missing out on the long jump final, he’ll be hoping to emulate his feats of a year ago when he won triple jump gold at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland.
With his season’s best in this event coming in at 16.85m that’s the shortest of the 12 finalist so he knows he’ll have his work cut out in the pit.
Then it’s the women’s 200m heats where Justine Palframan goes off.
She looked a way more confident young woman in the 200m heats than was the case in her 400m heats, something the Stellenbosch based athlete happily admits. She was third in her heat and told Road to Rio 2016 on Thursday: ‘This time I just ran to run. I didn’t think much of it, we just had the goal of getting the Olympic qualifying time. And I think because I didn’t stress or expect much it worked out for me, so now I must just run, give it my all in the semis and see what time I can get.’
Then it’s the 800m semi-finals and 2009 world champion and 2012 Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya will again represent an excellent chance of another medal for South Africa. She’s in the first of three semi-finals and her season’s best time of 1:59.59 in the heats is fifth fastest of the nine starters. The first two in each semi go through automatically and the next fastest two times from the three heats.
Last action of the evening is the mouth-watering prospect of the men’s 200m final where Anaso Jobodwana and Olympic champion Usain Bolt meet up again.
They’ll be in neighbouring lanes, six and seven. Three of the finalists have gone under 19sec this season: Justin Gatlin (19.57), Alonso Edwards (19.90) and Bolt (19.95).
It would seem that Jobodwana may well have to improve on his 20.02 personal best in the heats if he harbours any podium position on Thursday.
Here’s hoping that Van Niekerk’s golden aura rubs off on the other team members for the remainder of the championships.