JOHANNESBURG – South African athletics once again produced some of the greatest highlights on the 2018 sporting calendar, continuing its resurgence in recent years.
Here, we pick five highlights of the 2018 athletics season...
The return of big athletics to SA soil
The stellar performances from the past few years finally translated into interest from corporations which resulted in the launch of the Liquid Telecom Grand Prix Series.
While the three-legged series had a few teething problems, the Pretoria meeting produced a packed Tuks Stadium, which was a throwback to the heyday of South African track and field.
SA athletics enthusiasts were treated to world-class track action, with the series attracting a host of international and local stars.
Organisers managed to bring reigning world 100m champion and 2004 Olympic gold medallist Justin Gatlin of the US to South Africa as the marquee athlete for the series.
While Gatlin brought international star quality, it was the South African athletes that stole the show.
Former world championships bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana beat Gatlin in the rarely run 150m race, while three-time world champion Caster Semenya set a new South African 1 000m best of 2:35.43, which was one of the highlights.
Semenya produced a highlight reel spanning from March right through to November, further cementing her place among one of the country’s greatest sportstars ever.
Highlighting her class, Semenya did not allow the battle over the IAAF’s female eligibility rule to affect her performances on the track.
She became the only third female to win the 800m-1 500m double at the Commonwealth Games, setting her bid in motion by breaking Zola Budd’s 34-year-old South African 1 500m record, before completely dominating the 800m for her second gold.
Semenya was a class act in 2018, bagging the 400m-800m double at the African Championships in Asaba, Nigeria.
She won the 800m Diamond Trophy and the Continental Cup title in her specialist two-lap event, while she also set national records in the 400m, 800m, 1 000m and 1 500m.
A Simbine-Bruintjies 1-2
South African sprinters continued to shine on the international athletics circuit, with national record-holder Akani Simbine leading the charge.
Simbine and former SA record holder Henricho Bruintjies produced the goods at the Commonwealth Games, where they raced to a gold-silver double in the 100m final.
Simbine burst over the line in first place in a time of 10.03 seconds, with Bruintjies grabbing the silver medal.
A South African 4x100m relay quartet consisting of Simbine, Bruintjies, Emile Erasmus and Anaso Jobodwana won the silver medal in new national record time.
I love my brothers pic.twitter.com/4N0Rwem1Ku— Henricho Bruintjies 👑🅱️ (@KINGBRUINTJIES) December 24, 2018
Simbine added to a medal-winning season by grabbing the African title to his growing list of accolades.
Wrapping up a successful season, Simbine finished third in the 100m at the Continental Cup, posting a time of 10.11.
Simbine also won the African title, and the Continental Cup bronze medal in the 100m later in the season.
I love smiling and spreading goodness.— Akani Simbine (@AkaniSimbine) December 12, 2018
Share your smile with the world. You don’t know all the good your smile can do.
Join in and show off your smile!!! Let’s spread good vibes 😁😁😁#smileuniversally #smile pic.twitter.com/MMeFJCad83
The Comrades Marathon is truly back in South African hands, with Bong’musa Mthembu and Ann Ashworth winning both the men’s and women’s categories.
Mthembu highlighted his class when he completed his Comrades Marathon hat trick, adding to his victories in 2014 and 2017. He also added the World 100km bronze to the silver he won two years ago.
Crossing the line in a time of 5:28.39, he became the first South African male athlete in 30 years to win back-to-back Comrades Marathon titles.
The 2018 Comrades produced another South Africa clean sweep, with Ann Ashworth winning her maiden title.
South Africa’s long-jump kings
Long-jump kingpin Manyonga added the Commonwealth crown and the world indoors silver medals to his growing list of accolades.
But unlike the last two years, Manyonga did not quite dominate the sandpit in the way he did in 2017.
The world record holder had compatriot Ruswahl Samaai breathing down his neck, finishing third at the Commonwealth Games for a gold-bronze double in Australia.
Manyonga made his Commonwealth debut in style, leaping to a new Games record of 8.41m.
Samaai beat Manyonga at the African Championships.