CAPE TOWN - KYLE Blignaut slugged it out with the world’s best shot put exponents, and can feel proud of his efforts in finishing sixth in the Tokyo Olympics final on Thursday.
But it was a nightmare for South Africa’s 4x100m relay squad as they failed to complete their race after a mix-up with the first exchange of the baton.
But Blignaut, a former world junior champion, showed his pedigree in taking on top American duo Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, as well as New Zealand star Tomas Walsh.
The 21-year-old from Pretoria didn’t have the best of starts as the 7.26kg metal ball came out more sideways than up and forwards – and his first effort measured 20.29 metres.
In contrast, Crouser pulled off a new Olympic record of 22.83m in his first round, which he improved to 22.93m in his second attempt.
Blignaut didn’t register a distance in his second round, and was outside the top eight athletes who would be allowed three more attempts.
But he displayed his big-match temperament with a superb effort of 21.00m in his third round, which catapulted him into fifth position.
Unfortunately for Blignaut, a former South African, Zane Weir – who now represents Italy – forced his way into fifth with a new personal best of 21.41m.
Blignaut wasn’t able to improve on his 21.00m distance, finishing with 20.96m and 20.46m, and he stepped out of the circle when his final attempt went awry, and he had to settle for sixth.
But it was a terrific performance, and bodes well for next year’s world championships and the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Crouser, just to underline his dominance, launched a massive last effort of 23.30m, which was just seven centimetres short of his world record 23.37m, to claim the gold medal ahead of Kovacs (22.65m) and Walsh (22.47m).
Meanwhile, in the 4x100m relay heat one, South Africa would have felt confident of getting through to the final. They lost Gift Leotlela to a hamstring tear following the 100m semi-finals, but had an in-form Shaun Maswanganyi, who did well to reach the semi-finals of both the 100m and 200m.
Chederick van Wyk came in as a replacement for Leotlela, with the formation as follows – Clarence Munyai, Maswanganyi, Van Wyk and Akani Simbine.
Munyai got off to a reasonable start from the blocks in lane seven, and got to Maswanganyi in about fifth spot.
But as the exchange of the baton occurred, Maswanganyi just stopped as it seemed like he tripped when his feet got tangled up with that of Munyai.
It is not clear if the 20-year-old was injured, but he didn’t run any further and held his hands over his head and then his mouth in disbelief as he peered at the big screen alongside Munyai, who looked understandably shell-shocked.
It was a heartbreaking outcome for a team that won the World Relays gold medal in Poland in May, and also held a pre-Olympics camp in Italy last month, although a number of the top countries did not participate in that event.
South Africa weren’t alone in their misery in their heat, with the Netherlands also unable to finish as Jamaica won in 37.82 seconds, followed by Great Britain (38.02) and Japan (38.16), with all three nations qualifying automatically for the final.
But an even bigger upset was the United States failing to advance to the final. The Americans boasted some of the quickest 100m men in the world this year, including Olympic silver medallist Fred Kerley, world leader Trayvon Bromell and Ronnie Baker.
They chose to rest 200m silver medallist Kenny Bednarek, and that decision backfired as they finished in sixth position in heat two in 38.10 seconds as they were edged out by Ghana (38.08) for the last ‘fastest loser’ spot.
China won the second heat in 37.92, just holding off Canada (same time) into second place, with Italy third in 37.95.
Ghana was joined in the final as a ‘fastest loser’ by Germany, who finished fourth in the second heat in 38.06.
Men’s shot put final results
1 Ryan Crouser (USA) 23.30m
2 Joe Kovacs (USA) 22.65m
3 Tomas Walsh (New Zealand) 22.47m
4 Darlan Romani (Brazil) 21.88m
5 Zane Weir (Italy) 21.41m
6 Kyle Blignaut (RSA) 21.00m (attempts: 20.29m, foul, 21.00m, 20.96m, 20.46m, foul)
7 Armin Sinancevic (Serbia) 20.89m
8 Mostafa Hassan (Egypt) 20.73m
9 Jacko Gill (New Zealand) 20.71m
10 Payton Otterdahl (USA) 20.32m
11 Mesud Pezer (Bosnia and Herzegovina) 20.08m
12 Chukwuebuka Enekwechi (Nigeria) 19.74m