Wayde van Niekerk (left) and Akani Simbine acknowledge the crowd at the 2017 ASA Championships at Puk McArthur Stadium in Potchefstroom over the weekend. Photo: Roger Sedres/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - Sprinting kings Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk emerged as revolutionaries as they lead a new generation of South Africans a step closer to becoming one of the world’s athletics powerhouses.

While there were all-around world-class performances at the South African Track and Field Championships, it was the Van Niekerk and Simbine show as they managed to fill up the McArthur Stadium in Potchefstroom as they set out to do.

“It is about time that us as South Africans step up and show the world we belong among the greatest, I mean the likes of America and Jamaica are people we look up to and we want to add South Africa to that list,” Van Niekerk said.

“I was a fan of the weekend, I didn’t know whether I was a competitor or a fan but it excites me, the whole movement that we’ve got through 'fill up Potch' and the statement we made as a track and field nation.”

Olympic long jump silver medallist Luvo Manyonga’s record-breaking jump may have been the performance of the championships but it was the sprinters who captured the attention of the packed stadium.

On the first day Simbine reclaimed his 100m title in a race that featured all five of the country’s sub-10 second men.

Simbine dipped at the line in a time of 9.95 seconds with Van Niekerk and Thando Roto earning second and third place respectively in a photo finish with a time of 10.02secs.

Van Niekerk turned the tables the next day in the 200m as he raced to a new personal best of 19.90secs with Simbine finishing second in 20.15secs and Gift Leotlela rounding off the podium with a personal best of 20.20secs.

The 400m world record-holder moved past Simbine on the world rankings list in the 200m with South African sprinters currently occupying the top five places.

“We’ve put our foot down and showed not only our country but the world that we love our sport and we are going to fight for it,” Van Niekerk said.

“I know for sure I have a lot more left in the tank, I can see it in Akani as well when we walk around teasing each other, both of us have so much more to prove, I promise we will give a better show as the season goes on.”

Simbine, who is considered the brainchild behind the athlete-driven #FillUpPotch social media campaign that created hype for the championships, said the athletics fans responded to their call to action while the athletes delivered the goods.

“Compared to the other South African championships I’ve been to, this has been a total change, we got the stands full and we actually got people talking athletics and excited about what is going on,” Simbine said.

“It is not just the sprints, it is the long jump, the long distance, athletics as a whole and that builds the culture of athletics in the country.”

As one of the main attractions, Manyonga entertained the crowd before winning his maiden national title with a new South African and African record with an opening jump of 8.65 metres.

Although Manyonga retired shortly afterwards due to a groin niggle he still manage to beat out the competition.

Rio Olympian Ruswahl Samaai leapt to a new personal best of 8.49m for the silver medal with Zarck Visser bagging bronze with 8.03m making it the first time the top three leapt over eight metres at the championships.

Manyonga moved to 11th place on the world all-time list which edged him within 30 centimetres of Mike Powell’s world mark of 8.95m from 1991.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya won the 400-800m double 51.60 seconds and 2:01.03 respectively.

Iconic hammer thrower Chris Harmse demonstrated nerves of steel to claim his 22nd national title landing the gold-medal heave on his last throw after occupying second place going into the final round.

Rising female sprinter Alyssa Conley won her second 100-200m double while shot-putters Orazio Cremona and Jaco Engelbrecht earned their tickets to the IAAF World Championships in August.

Cremona won the title with a massive personal best heave of 21.12 metres with Engelbrecht also improving on his PB with 20.63m.

The Star

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