Benjamin Richardson qualifies for Paris Olympics by beating Wayde van Niekerk

Benjamin Richardson (green vest) produced a personal best time to win the SA 200m title in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Benjamin Richardson (green vest) produced a personal best time to win the SA 200m title in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 20, 2024


Youngster Benjamin Richardson announced his arrival on the big stage by beating Wayde van Niekerk to qualify for the Paris Olympics and claim the 200m title at the SA athletics championships in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.

The 20-year-old from Pretoria is a former world junior silver and bronze medallist in the 100m in 2021 and 2022, while he was also part of the SA 4x100m relay team that broke the Under-20 world record in clinching gold at the 2021 junior world championships in Nairobi.

But, having said on Saturday that he had battled in his move onto the senior circuit, Richardson produced the race of his life to grab the 200m gold medal at the Msunduzi Athletics Stadium in a personal best time of 20.16 seconds, which matched the Olympic qualifying time – with his previous quickest effort having been 20.26.

Straight out of the blocks in lane six, Richardson ranged up and went past Van Niekerk – who was in lane seven – who quickly realised that he needed to get going to catch up and started putting his foot down.

But Richardson kept going, bursting away over the final 50 metres, and he still had time to look around at the rest of the field over the last 15 metres to clinch the gold medal – with 400m world record-holder Van Niekerk, who opted to open his season in the half-lap event, finishing second in 20.31.

Sinesipho Dambile took the bronze in 20.37, and Van Niekerk hugged and congratulated Richardson afterwards.

“I have been going through a rough transition to the senior phase, but now I am here. I did what I wanted to do – I wanted to win, and get that qualifier. And I did it, and I’m happy,” Richardson, who also qualified for last year’s 100m at the senior world championships in Budapest, where he was knocked out in the heats, told SuperSport TV.

“We are all running in the same conditions, so that was no excuse for me. I had to win, and these people don’t come to see us complain – so I had to do something for them.

“I’m glad I ran a PB and Olympic qualifier. We dream about this... I am happy that I am going to represent this country, and I’m glad I can take it all the way to the Olympics and show everyone what I’ve got it.

“I just felt like I had to show up – no matter the heat or what’s going on. I feel like there’s a lot left, but I happy and content with what I did.”

In the women’s 200m final, Shirley Nekhubui claimed the gold in 23.28, and she followed it up with superb run to grab the 400m title as well in 51.77.

The men’s 400m final was also a thrilling affair, with 21-year-old Lythe Pillay smashing the rest of the field with a superb new personal best of 44.31 to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Pillay surged away from Zakithi Nene in the final 50 metres to take the gold medal, with Nene second in 44.80 and Gardeo Isaacs third with 45.33.

In the men’s 5 000m final, SA record-holder Adriaan Wildschutt proved that he is still the king of the event by running at the front for most of the race to win in 13:30.39.

Wildschutt, who competes on the American college circuit, cruised to victory ahead of veteran athlete Elroy Gelant (13:34.04), with Precious Mashele third (13:35.19).

“I knew it was going to be tough, which shows the depth in the field. I never train in such hot weather, so it was new for me – but I was just excited to win. But like I said, the heat was extreme,” Wildschutt, whose brother Nadeel had clinched the 10 000m title earlier in the week, told SuperSport.

In other women’s events, Jo-Ané van Dyk took the javelin title with a 60.25m throw, while Charné Swart won the 800m title in 2:01.81.

In the 100m hurdles heats, SA record-holder Marioné Fourie showed what could be possible in Sunday’s final by clocking a blisteringly quick 12.92.

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