JOHANNESBURG - One global mark down and two to go as South African athletes are looking to rewrite the world track and field record books.
The world expected Olympic 800m gold medallist Caster Semenya to break the world record in the two-lap event in 2016 but instead, it was Wayde van Niekerk who produced the magic in Rio de Janeiro.
If long-jump sensation Luvo Manyonga and Semenya’s upwards trajectories in their respective events are anything to go by, they may be joining Van Niekerk in adding the South African flag behind world records.
When Van Niekerk demolished Michael Johnson’s 400m record by 0.15sec, he became the first South African since 1975 to break an athletics world record. Discus thrower John van Reenen was the last South African to reach this feat when he set a new global mark in his specialist event in Stellenbosch with a heave of 68.48m.
Van Niekerk ushered in a new South African athletics era, although Semenya was the first of the ‘born-frees’ to make her mark on the global stage. Setting a South African record at her maiden World Championships in Berlin 2009, she announced her arrival on the global stage.
It was only until last year that she would once again return to the type of form that made her one of the hottest properties in world athletics as a mere teenager. Her absolute dominance in the two-lap race in 2016 fuelled speculation she would break the dust-covered world record at the global showpiece.
Talk of Semenya breaking Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvílová’s long-standing world record of 1:53.28 did not materialise but the South African nevertheless improved on her national mark to claim the Olympic title. Crossing the line in 1:55.28 she shaved 0.05 off her previous best to move up one spot from 12th to 11th on the world all-time list. Her SA record is more than a second off 2008 Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo of Kenya’s continental record of 1:54.01.
While Semenya has always been reluctant to discuss the possibility of breaking the record, she struck a slightly different tone earlier this year at the ASA Speed Series in Potchefstroom.
“Who knows if I can go faster than that? But the main focus is the World Champs and running faster times,” Semenya said at the time. “The world record is obviously on my mind when I look at the splits they run; if you work hard you can achieve those goals.”
At her final race before the World Champs, Semenya lowered her national record by 0.01 indicating some good form going into the global showpiece. Adding the 1500m to her repertoire for the championships may complicate her chances of getting closer to the global mark but nothing seems to be impossible for her.
Adding his name to the SA world-record mix is Manyonga, who has leapt to four distances above 8.60m at four consecutive meets. His national and continental record of 8.65m at the SA Championships in Potchefstroom in April launched him into 11th place on the world all-time list while it was also the biggest jump in almost eight years.
The long-jump phenom has made overtures about breaking the 9m barrier which would launch him into the record books. He clearly has Mike Powell’s long-standing record of 8.95m in his sights and given his progression, he may soon be giving it a fright.
Which brings us to Van Niekerk, who has made his intentions of becoming the first man to dip below 43 seconds in the one-lap sprint as he looks to improve on his world record of 43.03. Imagine three new world records by South Africans before year end. Wouldn’t that be a thing?