Caster made SA proud in LondonComment on this story
Johannesburg – In a year that promised so much for South African athletics, Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya was the only athlete that truly delivered when it mattered most.
Semenya won a silver medal in the women's 800 metres final at the London Olympic Games to hand the country its only athletics medal.
The 21-year-old finished second behind Russia's Mariya Savinova in a season's best time of one minute, 57.23 seconds (1:57.23).
“It was great. I had a really good race,” Semenya said after the final.
“Unfortunately, I didn't start fast but I am happy with the result. I made my move too late, but with the 800m you have to do what you have to do.
“I am happy with the silver but I know the coach (Maria Mutola) isn't really happy as I didn't do a good job, but you learn from your mistakes.” Semenya, 21, added the Olympic silver to her gold and silver medals at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, further establishing herself as the country's top track and field athlete in recent seasons.
On a positive note, a number of national records tumbled, while a new crop of young talent made their presence felt this year.
In the build-up to the Games, South Africa boasted at least five medal prospects, with the athletics team widely tipped to secure the most medals.
Javelin queen Sunette Viljoen was almost a shoo-in for a medal but her campaign ended in tears of heartbreak rather than joy.
Viljoen, 29, went into the Games as the number-one ranked woman javelin thrower in the world after she again bettered her SA record with a heave of 69.39 metres at the New York Diamond League meeting in June.
However, she saw her Olympic dream shatter as she finished fourth in the final at the Games.
Viljoen was in second position after her first attempt of 64.53m, but she failed to better that throw and slipped down the list as Germany's Linda Stahl took the bronze medal with a 64.91m effort.
While there were many disappointments for South Africa's athletes, there were performances that instilled some confidence in the future.
After a number of setbacks prior to the Games, South Africa's high hurdles ace Lehann Fourie was on the brink of hanging up his spikes for good.
However, when he made the final of the 110m hurdles, against all odds, his career found some purpose again.
He demonstrated this when he broke Shaun Bownes' 11-year-old 110m hurdles record at the final Diamond League meeting of the year in Brussels, Belgium.
The Olympics also ushered in the rise of new SA sprint sensation Anaso Jobodwana, who ran in the men's 200m final, against the likes of Jamaica's Usain Bolt, finishing in eighth place.
Double-amputee Oscar Pistorius made history at the global showpiece as the first amputee to compete on the track at the able-bodied Games. He reached the semi-finals of the men's 400m sprint and competed in the 4x400m relay final.
Ahead of the Olympics, Simon Magakwe mesmerised the local athletics fraternity when he clocked 10.06 seconds in the 100m at the SA Student Championships to match the national mark set by Johan Rossouw in 1988.
Although Magakwe dipped under the Olympic qualifying mark six times in the 100m, he failed to make the team for London because he did not reach the standard at an international meeting.
During the Games, there was more disappointment for SA athletes with one-lap hurdlers LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks both getting knocked out in the first round of the men's 400m hurdles.
South Africa's only medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games, Khotso Mokoena, could not live up to expectations, finishing eighth in the long jump final.
Athletics in the country had its fair share of scandal, with sprint star Tsholofelo Thipe and Rapula Sefenyatso the most recent to test positive for banned substances.
The Comrades Marathon was also rocked by a doping scandal when the 2012 winner, Ludwick Mamabolo, tested positive for methylhexaneamine.
Earlier in the year, one of the country's most promising stars, former world junior long jump champion Luvo Manyonga, tested positive for methamphetamine, commonly known as 'tik'.
He was banned from competition for 18 months. – Sapa