Tshenolo Lemao (second from left) wins the gold medal in the 100m at the Under-18 world championships in Nairobi on Wednesday. Photo: @iaaforg via Twitter

“Sitting watching the Under-18 World Championships and I am just amazed at how South Africa is killing it,” read a message from a Jamaican journalist.

I responded with typical South African modesty that our sprinting was looking healthy. “Extremely healthy, at all levels. Reminds me of us (Jamaica) eight years ago,” said Ricardo Chambers, a renowned athletics journalist I met at the 2015 World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia.

His sentiment is a growing one as South African sprinting is making a mark globally at student, youth, junior and senior level.

Earlier this week Tshenolo Lemao and Retshidisitswe Mlenga raced to 100m gold and silver respectively in the boys 100m final at the IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya.

They became South Africa’s first 100m sprint medallists in a world championship.

Since Anaso Jobodwana’s reached the 200m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games, South Africans have made regular appearances in major competitions.

The following year Jobodwana raced to the 100-200m double titles at the World Student Games, becoming the first athlete to achieve that feat.

The 2013 IAAF World Championships was a crucial year in South Africa’s sprinting revolution with Jobodwana finishing sixth in the 200m final, while future superstar Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine made their debuts at the global showpiece.

At the 2015 World Student Games, Simbine won the 100m to defend South Africa’s title.

Later that year South Africa would get its big breakthrough at the Beijing World Championships with Van Niekerk claiming the 400m title and Jobodwana earning bronze in the half-lap sprint.

A month before the duo’s heroics in Beijing, Kyle Appel won the 200m silver medal at the 2015 World Youth Championships in Cali.

Last year Gift Leotlela finished second in the half-lap sprint at the World Junior Championships in Poland.

The pièce de résistance came at the Rio Olympic Games where Van Niekerk raced to the title in a new 400m world-record time of 43.03 seconds.

Simbine became the first South African male sprinter since Danie Joubert in Los Angeles in 1932 to make it into the final of the 100m dash at the global showpiece to add to the celebrations.

Which brings us back to 2017 where Van Niekerk set a new 300m world best, with Rio Olympian Clarence Munyai improving the junior mark.

South Africa has effectively won a medal at every major championship since 2013 from youth, junior, to senior level.

When Lemao and Mlenga won the 1-2 in Kenya, athletics statistician and coach Pierre-Jean Vazel asked whether South Africa was the new Jamaica.

Next month’s London World Championships would be revealing as Van Niekerk goes for the 200-400m double with Simbine also racing the 100m and 200m.

South Africa could claim medals over all three sprint distances, and perhaps even two podium finishes in one of those races.

That would certainly elevate South Africa to one of the leading sprinting nations in the world and who knows we might become the dominant force.


Saturday Star

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter