JOHANNESBURG – South Africa will be looking to be crowned the top nation at the African Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria, for the third consecutive edition by the end of this week.
The country topped the medal table in Durban two years ago winning 33 in total - 18 gold, nine silver and eight bronze.
The championships will have an extra incentive for the athletes with winners in each individual event earning a place for the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic, next month.
Middle distance queen Caster Semenya will spearhead SA’s charge at the biennial showpiece eyeing a 400/800m double gold medal haul.
Semenya will be looking to continue her outright global dominance in the two-lap event which she would extend to three years if she reclaims the African title.
The 27-year-old Semenya has been on fire in her specialist event, dipping below one minute and 55 seconds, twice this season.
She posted the fourth fastest time of all time at the Paris Diamond League meeting in July with a new national record of 1:54.25.
Semenya has been equally good in the 1500m, breaking the national record twice, but will instead focus on the one-lap sprint at the African championships.
At the previous championships in Durban, she won the 800, 1500 and the 4x400m relay titles.
The men’s long jump should also provide some fireworks as compatriots Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai continue their arm-wrestle in the sandpit.
World champion Manyonga will be looking to relieve Samaai of the title he won at the continental championships two years ago.
Manyonga may have lost his air of invincibility thanks to Cuban phenomenon Juan Miguel Echevarria but will be buoyed by some fabulous consistent jumping at recent meetings.
He won the London Diamond League with the best jump of 8.58 metres with Samaai finishing second with a season’s best leap of 8.42m.
Olympic javelin throw silver medallist Sunette Viljoen may not be in her best shape but is expected to win her sixth African title which would be her seventh medal since the 2006 championships in Mauritius.
South African 100m record holder Akani Simbine will be lining up in the short sprint on the first day of the championships hoping to finally get the African title behind his name.
Buoyed by a season’s best 9.93 seconds at the recent Diamond League meeting in London, Simbine is hell bent on being crowned African champion.
Simbine got bronze at the previous edition in South Africa in 2016.
Horizontal jumps legend Khotso Mokoena will be hunting for his seventh medal at the continental championships.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics long jump silver medallist has won the African title in both the long and triple jump events.
He has finished second in the long jump on two occasions and also boasts triple jump silver and bronze medals.
High jump ace Chris Moleya is feeling bullish about his chances of earning the continental title for the first time after a recent breakthrough performance at an IAAF World Challenge meeting in Madrid.
He finished third with a new personal best of 2.26 metres and launching himself into the joint fifth place on the South African all-time list.@Ockertde