Cape Town - Most South African athletics fans would’ve been hoping for Akani Simbine and Carina Horn to win gold at the African Championships in Durban on Thursday.
Instead, it was 100m hurdler Claudia Heunis who emerged victorious at the Kings Park Athletics Stadium.
Simbine had gone into the 100m final on Thursday afternoon as one of the favourites, but after a sketchy semi-final on Wednesday evening when he appeared to run out of steam towards the end, it was a portent of things to come.
Instead, it was the Ivory Coast’s Youssef Ben Meité who stormed to the gold medal in a blistering time of 9.95, his fastest ever, although it won’t count as a personal best as the wind limit was +2.4m/s, above the permissible +2.0m/s.
Ben Meité has only run a sub-10 in the 100m once, earlier this year, so Simbine will be disappointed to miss out on a gold medal on home soil. The 22-year-old Tuks athlete had prepared for the African Championships with a training camp alongside Usain Bolt and Wayde van Niekerk in Jamaica two weeks ago, and ran a 10.01 in Kingston, with Bolt winning in 9.88.
But perhaps the extra week spent in Boston for the Boost Games counted against Simbine, who ran in the US on Saturday night and had to make his way to Durban immediately for Wednesday’s heats and semi-final.
The South African record holder had to settle for bronze eventually in Durban on Thursday in 10.05, with Lesotho’s Mosito Lehata continuing his upward curve to take silver in 10.04.
Teenager Gift Leotlela, who had just made it to the final as one of the “fastest losers” in the semis, ran an excellent race to finish fourth in 10.24.
Horn, though, had a much tougher task as she went toe-to-toe with new African record holder Murielle Ahouré of the Ivory Coast, who set a new mark of 10.78 less than two weeks ago in Florida in the US.
The SA record holder didn’t hold back in the final and nearly caused an upset, but it was not to be as Ahouré clinched gold in 10.99. Horn wasn’t far behind in 11.07, the second-fastest time of her career and her best time on SA soil, as she equalled Evette de Klerk’s 11.06 record in Spain last year.
But Horn will be pleased with her effort and progress in recent weeks as she has improved her season’s best in almost every race during that period.
The third SA athlete in the 100m final, Tebogo Mamatu, ended seventh in 11.54.
The highlight of the early afternoon for the hosts, though, came from Heunis in the women’s 100m hurdles as she claimed gold in 13.35. It was a new personal best, beating her previous mark of 13.36, and it follows her SA title in April.
Multi-discipline athlete Maryke Brits showed her class as well to grab a bronze in 13.47, with Burkina Faso’s Marte Koala finishing second in 13.36.