Wayde van Niekerk shows off his 400m gold medal. Photo: AP

Athletics can easily lay claim to the title as the most successful South African sport in 2017, after the country’s top athletes reached unprecedented heights this year.

It was a record-breaking year, with South Africa returning from the London World Championships with its best-ever medal haul at the biennial showpiece.

Spearheaded by the king and queen of South African track and field, Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya, the team return from the championships with six medals, to finish third on the medals table.

Semenya raced to her third 800m world title, while adding the 1 500m bronze medal for good measure, while Van Niekerk stopped painstakingly short of claiming a rare 200-400m golden double. He retained his 400m world title halfway through a demanding six-days of racing, before winning the 200m silver.

Long-jump phenomenon Luvo Manyonga consistently produced the fireworks in the sandpit this season, claiming South Africa’s first long-jump gold medal at the world championships.

Semenya and Manyonga also finished the season with Diamond League trophies, following in the footsteps of Khotso Mokoena, to win overall series titles.

Jarrion Lawson, Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai show off their medals. Photo: EPA

Manyonga lay down the marker, leaping to a new South African record of 8.62m, extending the previous national mark by 12 centimetres.

A month later, he added another three centimetres to his record and landed four jumps of over 8.6m in consecutive competitions.

His South African record of 8.65m launched him to 11th place on the world all-time list and within a ruler’s length of the world record.

Manyonga boasts eight out of 10 of the best jumps in 2017, while his Diamond League victory in Zurich marked his 10th victory in as many finals since September 2016.

Semenya ended her season undisputed two-lap champion and a dominant force after racing to victory in 20 straight major finals in her specialist 800m event. At the world championships, she posted a new South African record of 1:55.16, adding to the gold from Berlin 2009 and Daegu 2011.

She moved into eighth place on the world all-time list, becoming the second fastest African athlete behind former Kenyan world champion Pamela Jelimo.

Bringing her season to an emphatic end, Semenya set a new world 600m best at the World Challenge in Berlin, posting a time of 1:21.77. She knocked 0.86 off the previous mark that Cuba’s Ana Quirot set in 1997.

Van Niekerk continued his record-breaking run by adding the South African 200m record and the 300m world best behind his name.

The world 400m world record-holder shaved 0.03 off Anaso Jobodwana’s previous South African record at the Racers Grand Prix in Jamaica in June. Later that month, he set a new 300m world best 30.81 seconds at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting, improving the record Michael Johnson set in Pretoria back in 2000 by 0.04.

The world championships was also a breakthrough for Ruswahl Samaai, who clinched the bronze medal to share the podium with Manyonga in London. They both dominated the long lump in 2017.

Samaai made a strong statement at the South African Track and Field Championships in Potchefstroom in April, where he recorded a new personal best of 8.49m.

South Africa saw the emergence of its fifth sub-10 second 100m sprinter, when Thando Roto dipped below the magical mark in Pretoria, clocking a 9.95 seconds.

National 100m record-holder Akani Simbine and Roto made history in the same race, becoming the first South Africans to dip below 10 seconds in the same race.

The 2017 season was not only a groundbreaking one for the seniors, but also for the country’s top junior and youth athletes.

Rio Olympian Clarence Munyai posted a new 200m junior national and African record, clocking 20.10 seconds in Pretoria in March.

He also posted a new 300m world junior best-finishing third behind Van Niekerk in Ostrava, with a time of 31.61 seconds.

At the Athletics Gauteng North Championships, Sokwakhana Zazini posted a new world youth best in the 400m hurdles, in 48.84 seconds, improving the previous global mark by 0.17 seconds. He made true on his promise at the at the IAAF World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi, where he annihilated the field to win the title.

South Africa topped the medals table at the age-group championships, with a total of 11 medals - five gold, three silver, and three bronze.

South Africa's Caster Semenya crosses the finish line to win the women's 800 m final at the World Athletics Championships in London on Sunday. Photo: Tim Ireland/AP Photo

Sprinting duo Tshenolo Lemao and Retshidisitswe Mlenga were responsible for two gold and two silver medals in the 100m and 200m.

Lemao won the short sprint with Mlenga in second place, before they swopped positions in the 200m.

Diminutive high jumper Breyton Poole improved his personal best by six centimetres, clearing 2.24m for the title.

Sunday Independent

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter