SA stars look good ahead of Olympics
The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April got the season off to an early start with South Africa finishing sixth on the overall table with 13 gold, 11 silver and 13 bronze medals.
Athletics and swimming were the two major contributors to the tally with 14 and 12 respectively.
Athletics fans had to live without 400m record holder Wayde van Niekerk burning up the track but there were many appetising performances to satisfy the palate.
While the country’s male swimmers and track and field athletes have dominated the headlines over the past few years, the spotlight shifted to the women in 2018.
In track and field, Caster Semenya continued her dominance in her specialist 800m event as she added a few more national records.
A few long-standing athletics records took a tumble with short-sprint hurdler Rikenette Steenkamp and the country’s fastest woman Carina Horn setting national marks.
Semenya raked in the medals in 2018, claiming the 800-1500m double gold at the Commonwealth Games while she also broke four national records including the Zola Budd’s 34-year-old South African mark in the three-and-three-quarter laps event.
She won the African 400m and 800m titles, claimed a second consecutive Diamond League 800m series title, and raced to the Continental Cup 800m gold medal and 400m silver.
In 2018 Semenya became the first female athlete ever to have dipped below 50 seconds in the 400m, two minutes in the 800m and four minutes over the 1 500m distances.
Add to that the performances of Akani Simbine, who won both the Commonwealth Games and African 100m titles and the long-jump double act of Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai.
Tatjana Schoenmaker emerged as the rose among South African swimming’s thorns became the first able-bodied female swimmer since Joan Harrison at the 1954 Vancouver Games to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth event.
She won the 100-200m breaststroke double while setting African records in the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke.
London 2012 Olympic champion Chad le Clos claimed won the butterfly golden treble winning the 50m, 100m, and 200m distances while he also became the most decorated Commonwealth swimmer bowing out of the Games with 17 in total over three editions.
Cameron van der Burgh, who this week announced his retirement from competitive swimming, had a stellar year winning his third consecutive 50m butterfly gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Before announcing he would be hanging up his goggles, Van der Burgh won his second 100m breaststroke gold medal at the World Short-Course Championships in Hangzhou, China, earlier this week.
Alan Hatherly continued his upward trajectory, winning the Under-23 world cross-country title in Lenzerheide, Switzerland and the Commonwealth Games bronze medal.
With less than two years to go to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, South Africa is in a healthy position, at least on face value.
But Van der Burgh’s retirement is a massive blow, while the country’s rowing squad had an uncharacteristic offish season.
Next year’s world championships and qualifying events in the different codes will be telling and one can only hope new prospects step into the void left by someone like Van der Burgh, and that the rest of the stalwarts remain injury free.@ockertde