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Caster Semenya an inspiration, but Prudence Sekgodiso’s running her own race

Prudence Sekgodiso (C) reacts after winning the women's 800m race during the Kip Keino Classic, part of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold 2022, at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Daniel Irungu/AFP

Prudence Sekgodiso (C) reacts after winning the women's 800m race during the Kip Keino Classic, part of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold 2022, at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Daniel Irungu/AFP

Published May 15, 2022

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Cape Town - Having run a new personal best time in Nairobi last weekend, you would imagine that Prudence Sekgodiso would take some time out to bask in her glory.

After all, she posted the second-fastest 800m time by a South African woman with her outstanding 1:58.41 to emerge victorious at the Kip Keino Classic last Saturday.

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What made it more special was that she beat the reigning world champion, 27-year-old Ugandan Halimah Nakaayi, in the process she is now sure to get a few invites to Diamond League events as it was a World Athletics Continental Tour meeting as well.

Sekgodiso’s time was almost three seconds quicker than her previous PB of 2:01.40, which she produced last year.

She showed her class to prove that she could be a real contender at the African championships in Mauritius in early June, and who knows, even the world champs in Eugene, US in July.

Sekgodiso did the 800m-1 500m double at the South African championships at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town a few weeks ago. But her 800m winning time of 2:03.31 didn’t indicate that she was due for a new personal best – although the conditions were cold and windy in the Mother City.

“I didn’t expect it. I ran 2:01 last year, so I didn’t expect that time to come now,” Sekgodiso told Independent Media this week about her eye-catching performance in Kenya.

Still just 20, she had just completed her evening training session before the interview, and she had told her manager – Dr Talelani Sirunwa – that she wanted to keep it short as she was tired from the practice.

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So, it’s clear that she likes to do her talking on the track.

The Gauteng North athlete hails from Limpopo, and was nearly lost to athletics after she was prevented from competing in the 800m final at the world junior championships – also in Kenya – last year.

Sekgodiso had tested positive for Covid-19 before the title decider, but she had felt that there was nothing wrong with her, while she also tested negative afterwards – and she threatened to hang up her spikes.

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But coach Samuel Sepeng – former mentor to Caster Semenya and younger brother of 800m great Hezekiel – convinced her to return to the track this year, and the hard work has paid off.

“There was no difference (running in Nairobi this time). Last year, she was still a junior, and obviously when you work with an athlete, we are focusing on the long-term goals,” Sepeng told Independent Media.

“Last year was about qualifying for the world juniors, and reach the final, and once she reached the final, that thing happened (Covid-19 positive test).

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“She was the favourite for the world juniors, with her entry time of

2:01.40. So for me, it’s just a matter of planning for the season. Last year we got a 2:01, and this year, we came with a different approach.

“She’s 20 now, so she is competing with the seniors. To qualify for the world champs, she needed to run sub-two minutes, and that was the approach. We are happy we got that.”

Of course, there will be the inevitable comparison with Caster Semenya – a two-time Olympic champion and three-time world champion in the 800m, who is now trying to qualify for the world champs in the 5 000m following World Athletics’ change in the rules governing female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD).

“She was my inspiration when I was young. I’ve seen her on the TV many times, breaking records and travelling the world. But now I haven’t sat down with her, but I am still motivated by her,” Sekgodiso said about Semenya.

Sepeng was Semenya’s coach for a while previously, but feels Sekgodiso must run her own race.

“On that one, we are focusing on Prudence. I don’t want to compare Prudence with Caster, because I am busy dealing with Prudence,” Sepeng said.

South African athletics fans will hope that Sekgodiso can reach Semenya’s heights, and that journey will start at the African championships in Port Louis, Mauritius from June 8-12.

The big one is the world championships in the US from July 15-24.

“At the moment, we are focusing on the African champs. The goal for now is to go to the African champs, and we will take it from there,” Sepeng said about Sekgodiso’s immediate schedule.

“We will go for the 800 there. She is still young to do the (800m- 1 500m) double now. We have long-term goals, so that when she gets to 25-26, we can say that she can do the double. The goal is to get to the final at the African champs, and then anything can happen.

“She is capable (of reaching the world championship final). Whatever we do and whichever athlete we work with, she is capable of reaching the final. If you check the time that she has run at the moment, she is standing at second in the world – and ideally, there is more to come. The next time, she might run 1:56. In two months’ time, she might run 1:55.”

Sekgodiso added: “That’s our plan and that is our goal: to be in the final at the world champs.”

@AshfakMohamed

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