Another First For Lebogang Shange

Lebogang Shange proved on Saturday by winning the 20km race walk at the South African Championships that there is still no stopping as he set another first with his winning time of 1 hours and 23 minutes.  In doing so he not only again qualified for the World Championships in Beijing but, more importantly, his winning time was the fastest ever for any local 20km race walk event.  Wayne Snyman, who was second in 1:23:45, also qualified for the World Championships.

Shange’s coach Chris Britz says:  ‘I have walked faster times in Europe but not in South Africa.’  Shange’s performance on Saturday brings the tally of the High Performance Centre (HPC) athlete for ‘firsts’ in race walking this season to four.  It all began when Shange improved on Britz’s South African record in the 3000m when he won in a time of 11 minutes and 20.39 seconds at a league meeting at Tuks.

His winning time was nearly seven seconds faster than the previous record of 11:27.20 that was set in 1989.  Eight days later he wiped out another one of Britz’s records when he finished second in a time of 1 hour 21 minutes and 50 seconds in a 20km race walk event in Lugano, Switzerland.  Shange’s time was 32 seconds faster than the previous South African record (1:22:21) set by Chris Britz in 1996 in Eissenhuttenstadt.

Shange’s winning streak continued with his victory in Dudinska, which made him the first South African to win a race in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge series.  However, Shange was not confident going into the race on Saturday.  He was battling a back-injury and last Wednesday a despondent Shange speculated that he would be lucky to get a top three finish.

He says:  ‘I am in lot of pain when I try to walk fast.  His race started slowly.  He languished back in the field during the first two laps, but then he started to increase his pace and caught up with Snyman.’  The two training partners stayed together up to about the 15km marker, but when Shange increased his pace again Snyman could not keep up with him.  According to Shange he was in some pain during the race, but once he realised that he could win he just gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the ‘SOS’ messages his brain kept sending him.

Britz is confident that Shange’s injury woes will be something of the past within the next two weeks.  It was simply not meant for Akani Simbine to become the second South African sprinter to break through the magical 10 second barrier in the 100 metres on Saturday.  The final was contested in a slight headwind of 2.1 metres per second.

The Tuks/HPC athlete won in 10.25 seconds, with Roscoe Engel second in 10.43s and Emile Erasmus third in 10.66s.  LJ Van Zyl, another Tuks/hpc athlete, qualified for the World Championships for a fourth time in a winning time of 49.29s in the 400-hurdles.  Le Roux Hamman was second in 50.16s and PC Beneke (Tuks/HPC) third in 50.17s.  It was the 7th time that Van Zyl won the SA title.

Van Zyl says:  ‘It is always special for me to win the South African title.  This time it was even more special because so many things have changed in my life during the past few months.  I have a new coach, Irma Reyneke, who helped me to find my passion for athletics again and I will also become a dad later this year.  Becoming a father is exciting but also somewhat frightening because of the responsibilities that come with fatherhood.  Today (Saturday) I raced to thank my coach and my wife for their support.’

Van Zyl’s international campaign will begin on 15 May when he plans to race in the Diamond League Meeting in Doha.  He says:  ‘Doha has always been very special to me.  I won my first major international race in Doha in 2005.  I also hold the meeting record with a time of 48.11s.’  Wenda Nel (HPC/Tuks) won the 400-hurdles for women in 55.27s, again qualifying for the World Championships.

Photo credit: Reg Caldecott