Wenda Nel (400-hurdles) and Wayde Van Niekerk (400m) are the first South African athletes to have qualified for the finals at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. The fact that Van Niekerk is through to the final is no surprise. He has been one of the dominant runners over 400 metres throughout the season.
He is also one of only five athletes who were able to run a time of faster than 44 seconds this season. His winning time of 44.31 seconds in the semi-finals (24/08) was the fourth fastest. The athletes who were faster than Van Niekerk were Isaac Makwala (Botswana’s African record holder) who won his semi-final in 44.11s; Kirani James (Granada’s Olympic Champion) who won in 44.16s and Luguelo Santos (Dominican Republic) who was second in his semi-final in a time of 44.26s.
There can be no arguing that Van Niekerk (Kovsies) is the South African athlete with the most realistic chance of medalling in Beijing. With his victories at the New-York, Paris and London Diamond League Meetings he proved that has big-match temperament. In contrast to this, the fact that Wenda Nel qualified for the final can be ascribed to pure guts and dedication.
Her rise to becoming a world-class hurdler has been a three-year long work in progress. In 2013 her season’s best time was only 55.80s and she was ranked 39th on the IAAF-list. Last year she ran a new personal best time of 54.82 seconds, improving her ranking to 13th.
This season she has become “Miss Consistency”. She improved her best time to 54.37 seconds to become one of the ten fastest hurdlers in the world for 2015. Myrtle Bothma (53.74s –1986) and Surita Febbraio (54.05s –2003) are the only two South Africans who were able to run faster times. An interesting aspect of the Tuks/HPC athlete’s performance this season is that she was able to run times faster than 55 seconds on no less than six occasions.
Last year she was able to do so on only three occasions. Of the 11 400-hurdles races in which she competed this season she won five, was second twice and third once. Her worst finishes were fifth places at the Diamond League Meetings in London and Paris, as well as in Stockholm.
Nel had her work cut out in her semi-final on Monday (24/08). At the second-last hurdle it was still a tossup between Nel and Britain’s Eilidh Child as to who was going to finish second to qualify automatically for the final. Somehow Nel was able to find that something special that enabled her to pass the Brit.
Cassandra Tate (US) won the semi-final in 54.33s, with Nel second in 54.63s and Child third in 54.80s. In an IAAF interview after the race an elated Nel said that it has been her goal all along to qualify for the final: ‘I knew it was never going to be easy, but all the hard work of the past few years have at long last paid off.’ Carina Horn (Tuks) put in a credible performance in the 100 metres semi-final. She ran a time of 11.15s, but unfortunately it was not good enough to qualify for the final.
However, seen from a South African point of view, Horn’s performance was exciting. It has been years since a South African female sprinter has been able to consistently run times faster than 11.20s.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott