Cape Town - Want another dose of Caster Semenya magic? Well, you’ll have to wait until September 1 to get it. But Wayde van Niekerk won’t run again in 2016.
Independent Media can reveal that Olympic champion Semenya, who clinched the gold medal in the 800m at the Rio Games on Saturday night, will return home with the remaining athletes of Team South Africa in Brazil on Tuesday, when they are expected to receive a rapturous welcome from local fans at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
Semenya was the flag-bearer during the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics on Sunday, and will arrive back in South Africa on Tuesday morning at around 7.30am, where they will be officially welcomed by Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula.
But the 25-year-old Semenya, who was also the 2009 world champion, will sit out the next Diamond League athletics meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland on Thursday. She was initially going to take part, and was even mentioned on Sunday on the event website as one of the Olympic champions who has confirmed her participation.
Coach Jean Verster, though, told Independent Media on Monday that his athlete will only be back on the track on September 1, when the Diamond League series moves to Zurich, also in Switzerland for the second-last event before it concludes in Brussels, Belgium. In between, there is also a meet in Paris on Saturday, August 27, which Semenya will also skip.
Van Niekerk, who claimed South Africa’s first gold medal in Rio by breaking Michael Johnson’s 400m world record with a sensational new mark of 43.03, has already left Brazil and gone back to his training base in Gemona, Italy. His agent Peet van Zyl told Independent Media on Monday that Van Niekerk will only return to South Africa sometime in early September once he has fulfilled a few obligations in Gemona.
Van Niekerk was also listed as a possible entry for Thursday’s Diamond League meeting in Lausanne, but Van Zyl said it wasn’t the case. “That was the plan (to run in Lausanne), but after the 43.03, we decided to call a halt to his year,” he said. “We achieved the goals that we set for 2016.”
That means the 24-year-old Van Niekerk might only run again during the next South African summer athletics season around February next year, when he will start his preparations for the 2017 world championships in London, which take place from August 4-13 at the 2012 Olympic Stadium.
But one of the unheralded South African stars of the Rio Olympics will be in action this weekend. Van Zyl said that national 100m record-holder Akani Simbine will line up in the Paris Diamond League on Saturday night, with the 100m race set for 9.51pm SA time.
The 22-year-old Simbine is also in Gemona with Van Niekerk after ending fifth in the Olympic final in a time of 9.94 on Sunday, August 14. Simbine – whose SA mark stands at 9.89 – made a great start in the final as he had the best reaction time of all the finalists, and was just behind American star Justin Gatlin over the first 30 or so metres.
He looked to be pushing for a bronze as Usain Bolt (9.81) and Gatlin (9.89) took charge, but was pipped on the line by Canadian Andre de Grasse, who claimed the bronze in 9.91, with Jamaican Yohan Blake fourth in 9.93.
It was a fantastic experience for Simbine, though, in his first major international final, and he will be looking to build on that performance in Paris this weekend as he begins his journey to next year’s world championships.
His agent Van Zyl confirmed that Simbine will also participate in the Weltklasse Zurich Diamond League on September 1 alongside Semenya.@ashfakmohamed