Cape Town - She’s done her speed work, and now it’s time to get down to real racing. After improving her 400m personal best, Caster Semenya is ready run her first 800m event of the season at the Athletics South Africa Night Series meet at the Green Point Athletics Stadium on Tuesday night.
The 25-year-old Semenya – a 2009 world champion in Berlin and 2012 London Olympics silver medallist – has worked hard on improving her sprint work in the early stages of the season after a forgettable 2015.
Last year she didn’t even qualify for the 800m final at the world championships in Beijing as she placed last in her semi-final. Her best time of the year came in the heats in Beijing, where she just beat the two-minute mark to come in at 1min 59.59sec.
That ensured she at least qualified for the upcoming Rio Olympics, but considering her pedigree, a medal should be in her sights.
Semenya seems to have a better battle plan this year under new coach Jean Verster after parting ways with former 800m great Maria Mutola, and ran a number of 400m races, improving her PB by over a second, from 52.54 to 51.47 – an Olympic qualifying time – in Potchefstroom on March 12.
She clocked 52.45 at last Friday’s Varsity Athletics event in Johannesburg, and is primed to record a quick first 800m of 2016 ahead of the Rio Olympics in August, although she is unlikely to get anywhere close to her South African record of 1:55.45 she ran in the memorable 2009 world championship triumph as an 18-year-old in Berlin, as she would want to build up her pace during the European season as she gets closer to Rio.
But Semenya won’t be the only star athlete in action at Green Point.
The South African sprinting scene has been set alight in recent weeks by Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk, who have both broken 10 seconds in the 100m.
Simbine took ownership of the SA record he shared with Henricho Bruintjies when he scorched the Pilditch Stadium track in 9.96 at the opening ASA Night Series meet on March 8 in Pretoria.
The previous mark was 9.97, which is still Bruintjies’ PB, while 400m star Van Niekerk ran a blistering 9.98 at the Free State Championships on March 12.
But while Simbine and Van Niekerk won’t be running at Green Point on Tuesday, Bruintjies will. So, who says the “Blitz from Klapmuts” can’t reclaim or at least match Simbine’s 9.96?
The 22-year-old’s first 100m of the season at the Gauteng North Championships on March 12 and came in at 10.28 to place second behind Simbine, who ran 10.01.
Bruintjies would want to make a statement of his own that he can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Simbine and Van Niekerk, although it will be tough to break 10 seconds at sea level. He will be pushed by 400m star Isaac Makwala from Botswana, who will be looking to get through some speed work in the 100m.
Other notable names who will participate at Green Point include 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl, Elroy Gelant and Johan Cronjé in the 5 000m and Victor Hogan in the discus.
In the women’s events, watch out for new sprint sensation Alyssa Conley from Johannesburg, who ran an Olympic qualifying time of 11.29 at Pilditch a few weeks ago. She also has a 200m Olympic time of 23.24 in February this year, and is chasing joint SA record-holder Carina Horn, who equalled Evette de Klerk’s 25-year-old mark of 11.06. Horn, though, won’t be running at Green Point.
The meet is set to start at 6pm on Tuesday night.
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