Cape Town - Two of South Africa’s most celebrated athletes, Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya, will attempt to begin their journeys back to the top at the South African athletics championships in Cape Town this week.
Van Niekerk’s task seems to be tougher as he looks to put the disappointment of missing out on the 400m final at last year’s Tokyo Olympics behind him with renewed vigour.
The 29-year-old – who claimed the gold medal in racing to a new 400m world record of 43.03 seconds at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – will compete in his first serious race of 2022 at the Green Point Athletics Stadium when the national championships are held from Thursday to Saturday.
While he has yet to officially confirm it, it is understood that Van Niekerk will only run in the 200m event this week.
The heats for that race start on Friday at 10.30am, with the semi-finals on the same day from 2.15pm. The decider will take place on Saturday at 5.50pm.
Van Niekerk has been training in Florida in the US under new coach Lance Brauman from last year, just a few months before the Tokyo Olympics.
He only made it as far as the semi-finals in Japan, though, and it will be interesting to see whether the 400m event will continue to be his main focus going forward.
Having run sub-10, sub-20 and sub-44sec times in the 100m, 200m and 400m respectively, he is certainly capable of being a worldclass runner in all three races.
But the smart money should be on the 400m at the big events such as the World Championships and Commonwealth Games later this year.
So, the 200m this week will be a stepping stone to that end goal, but Van Niekerk won’t have an easy time of it in the Mother City.
National 200m record holder Clarence Munyai has been burning up the track in recent weeks, having clocked an impressive 100m season’s best time of 10.04 seconds.
Munyai was victorious in the 200m at the Athletics SA Grand
Prix 4 event in Germiston last week, when he produced a solid time of 20.33sec, and he will be keen to dip under 20 seconds at Green Point.
Another strong contender for the title will be Luxolo Adams, who won in 20.28sec in Potchefstroom recently.
For Semenya, the new world of the 5 000m beckons, where she is chasing a world championships qualifying time of 15min 10.00sec in the final on Thursday.
Semenya improved her 3 000m personal best to 8:54.97 in her last trip to Cape Town, and she will confident of reaching the required 5 000m time.
Her good friend Glenrose Xaba is sure to push her again, and Semenya will hope that she can achieve the necessary time before she begins her international season.