PRETORIA - Zakithi Nene - remember the name. Nene will be one of the athletes lining up in the men’s 400m at the Varsity Athletics Final at Tuks on Friday night. And Nene has to be favourite to win it.
Although defeated in the first Varsity Athletics Meeting at Tuks on 2 March, Nene smashed his personal best by nearly half a second at the South African National Championships on 17 March in the 400m final. Nene pushed eventual champion Pieter Conradie hard as only 0.18 seconds separated the two in the end. Conradie’s time was 45.55sec with Nene coming in at 45.63 - improving on his previous best of 46.
Nene may have been beaten in the first Varsity Athletics Meeting on 2 March at Tuks, but the University of KwaZulu-Natal Student has come into his own since then. Nene comfortably won his heat at the SA Championships, clocking 46.81.
In the semi-final he eased off the gas to finish second behind Conradie (46.08 - close to his then personal best of 46.00) before smashing the 46 second barrier for the first time in the final at the national championships with his 45.63sec silver medal.
Maties Wynand du Toit had the fastest time at the first of the two Varsity Athletics finals, running 46.22 to the 46.86 of Nene. But the latter is now a far different athlete, and on paper should have the edge over the rest of the field.
That said, he will have more racing in his legs to those over his compatriots, although with a six-day break, Nene should be none the worse for wear come race time.
The big question would really be how Nene deals with being the race favourite with a target on his back.
At the national championships Conradie was the favourite and it told as Nene closed on him in the final straight, went past Conradie, before the latter fought back to edge him on the line. Nene clearly has huge potential, having represented South Africa at the World University Games in 2017, getting to the semi-finals.
The 19-year-old has been steadily improving in the quarter mile running 48.52 in his first ever 400m in 2016.
In 2017 he opened with 46.89 and lowered his best to 46.41 when he finished fifth at the national championships.
His runner-up place this year and his breaking of the 46 second barrier means he has moved onto another level, and his aggressive style of racing will only see him improve, and at 19 he has only just begun his career.