This year alone has seen three of the sport’s longest-standing track records taking a tumble. Middle-distance phenom Caster Semenya broke former South African legend Zola Budd’s 34-year-old 1500m record at the Commonwealth Games in April with a time of 4:00.71.
She improved on that mark at the Doha Diamond League last month, dipping below the magical four-minute mark by clocking 3:59.92. Sprinting sensation Carina Horn removed Evette de Klerk from the record books in the women’s 100m at the South African track and field championships in Pretoria in March.
She chopped 0.03seconds off the 28-year-old record first set by De Klerk back in 1990. Horn produced her pièce de résistance at the same Doha Diamond League meeting when she ducked below 11 seconds for the first time, clocking 10.98 which was 0.05s faster than her previous record.
To add further credence to the idea that South African female athletes are finally breaking the mould, short-sprint hurdler Rikenette Steenkamp got in on the action earlier this week. Steenkamp had been threatening to break Corien Botha’s 100m hurdles record from 1998 since her return from a three-year injury-enforced hiatus.
She came tantalisingly close to the national mark in her comeback season in 2017 where she became only the second South African to dip below 13 seconds over the 100m barriers. On Monday she would finally smash the 20-year-old record, shaving 0.03 off Corien Botha's previous mark with a time of 12.91 in Prague.
Of the 30-odd South African women’s track and field records, only two individual marks from the 1980s still exist. De Klerk’s half-lap record of 22.06 set in Pietersburg (now Polokwane) in April 1989 still looms large and has hardly been challenged.
The other remaining one belongs to Myrtle Bothma, whose 400m hurdles record of 53.74 has stood since 1986. Bothma remains the only South African women to break the 54-second barrier over the one-lap hurdles.
These two existing records should at least give the next generation someone to look up to and something tangible to chase after. No disrespect to those who set records two to three decades ago, but it is only healthy for a sport to see the current crop pushing the boundaries.
That is, after all, what we as a species are all about; we constantly evolve in all areas of society and as a country, and we need to adapt. There is reason for optimism as the likes of Semenya, Steenkamp and Horn can attest to.
Talented junior and youth athletes like age-group 400m hurdles record-holders Zeney van Walt and Gontse Morake have the potential to rewrite the history books. They have both shown they have the potential to come close to Bothma’s incredible national record. There are a few more potential stars waiting and it will be the performances by Steenkamp, Horn and Semenya that will inspire them to follow in their footsteps.