Akani Simbine will be the man to beat in the 100m at the SA championships. Photo: Srdjan Suki, EPA
Akani Simbine will be the man to beat in the 100m at the SA championships. Photo: Srdjan Suki, EPA
Caster Semenya is set to do the 400m-800m double in Potchefstroom. Photo: Mike Egerton, PA
Caster Semenya is set to do the 400m-800m double in Potchefstroom. Photo: Mike Egerton, PA
Luvo Manyonga could set yet another SA long jump record next weekend. Picture: Reg Caldecott
Luvo Manyonga could set yet another SA long jump record next weekend. Picture: Reg Caldecott
Sunette Viljoen has already qualified for the world championships. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix
Sunette Viljoen has already qualified for the world championships. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix
Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk will be chasing the SA 200m record in Potch. Photo: EPA
Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk will be chasing the SA 200m record in Potch. Photo: EPA
JOHANNESBURG - If the hype and stellar early-season performances are anything to go by, the SA Senior Athletics Championships starting in Potchefstroom on Friday are set to be the most exciting in recent memory.

The athlete-driven #FillUpPotch social media campaign is indicative of a savvy generation who are looking to break barriers both on and off the track.

The sprinting revolution of the last four years has seen the emergence of a host of new talent all looking to make a mark on the global stage.

The men’s short distances are likely to dominate the headlines thanks to established and rising stars setting the track on fire early in the season.

Performances from the country’s fastest men have athletics enthusiasts salivating over the possibility of seeing more than two men dip below 10 seconds in the same race on home soil.

Olympic 100m finalist Akani Simbine has been the flag-bearer for fast times this season after he made history as the first South African and seventh man ever to dip below 10 seconds and 20 seconds in the 100m and 200m on the same day.

While Simbine has been the leading man, the Pretoria trio of Clarence Munyai, Gift Leotlela and Thando Roto are all staking a claim to be the best supporting act so far this season.

Simbine has already dropped three sub-10 second times, while Roto added his name to the list of SA men to breach the magical mark.

Roto ran a 9.95 to become the second fastest South African man behind Simbine, while the duo made history by both dipping below 10 seconds in the same race.

Leotlela set a new national junior record when he clocked 10.12 at the Gauteng North Championships, while Munyai has now set a new personal best of 10.20.

Add former SA record-holder Henricho Bruintjies, world 400m record-holder Wayde van Niekerk and world 200m bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana to the mix, and you have a 100m field as good as any in the world.

The men’s 200m could be equally spectacular, featuring a similar line-up but with the half-lap sprint suiting the likes of Jobodwana, Van Niekerk, Simbine, and Munyai slightly better.

Jobodwana is the undisputed 200m king as the national record holder, while also boasting the world bronze medal. Simbine, Jobodwana and Van Niekerk are the only South Africans to have dipped below 20 seconds.

Defending 200m champion Munyai upped the ante when he broke the SA and African junior record (20.10). He and training partner Leotlela (with a new personal best of 20.28) are threatening to add their names to the list.

While the fast feet will be hogging the limelight on the track, Luvo Manyonga could scare the world long jump record on any good day.

The long jump phenom recently set a new SA and continental record of 8.62m, but says there is still plenty of room for improvement.

While Manyonga seems to be towering over the rest of the competition, winning the title is easier said than done as he has to go up against the likes of Zarck Visser (personal best of 8.41m) and Rio Olympian Ruswahl Samaai (8.38m).

The men’s 400m hurdles could be one of the hottest contested events, with stalwarts LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks having to compete against a few promising young pretenders.

Fredericks is leading the pack with a season’s best of 49.27, with Van Zyl hot on his heels after clocking 49.29 on Wednesday evening.

Le Roux Hamman made a strong statement when he opened his season with a 49.37, while Constant Pretorius dipped below 50 seconds for the first time this year.

Olympic champion Caster Semenya will take a more measured approach compared to last year when she claimed a golden trio in the 400m, 800m and 1 500m. Racing on her home track, she will just be looking for a 400-800 double this time.

Olympic javelin silver medallist Sunette Viljoen looks set to win her 12th national title after she met the world qualifying distance with the greatest of ease with a season opener of 62.83m at the Potchefstroom leg of the Athletics SA Speed Series.

@ockertde

Sunday Independent