Track athletes Antonio Alkana and Caster Semenya both aced gold medals to push Team South Africa’s medal tally over the hundred mark at the African Games in Brazzaville on Monday. Alkana ran and leapt his way to victory in the 110?metre hurdles while Semenya blew the 800m field away in the two-lap final. The track and field section added another three bronze medals to the team tally while there was also a judo bronze from Zack Piontek.
The six medals mean Team SA’s total medal count stands at 103. Alkana was the fastest qualifier into the final and took off like a man possessed as he was never headed in clocking a winning time of 13.32 seconds. That’s a huge personal best for the Blue Downs, Western Cape athlete and he wore a smile all the way back to Cape Town as he was waiting in the doping control room.
His previous best was the 13.47 he ran in Turku, Finland to qualify for this year’s World Championships. He says: ‘I knew I could run exactly this time. I’ve done it time and time again in training. My coach Marcel Otto is very good with his hand?timing and he has often had me running times which convert to exactly 13.32. I have told myself for ages that I can do it electronically.’ As for his race tactics, he says: ‘I knew the Algerian and Nigerian next to me have good starts to I knew I had to get out fast.’
And that’s exactly what happened as Lyes Mokdell (ALG) and Tyrone Adkins (NGR) had to settle for silver (13:49) and bronze (13.54) respectively. And this win could just be the confidence booster he needed. He says: ‘There are always things I can improve on. My trailing leg really needs to improve so I’m confident I can go faster. This is definitely the most important medal of my career and I’d like to dedicate it to my five-year old son, Logan. Now I’m going to take a nice break and will only get back into training next year, probably at the end of March.’
Just 15 minutes after Alkana’s annexing of gold and Semenya had the Team SA fans in the Stade D’Unite out of their chairs as she swept to a 2min 01.00sec win. It was a confident Caster who started off quicker than has been the case in her recent races. She lay second after 200m and stayed up front as the bell for the final lap sounded at exactly 60sec.
She was passed by around three athletes with 200m to go but it wasn’t for long as the number 475 vest came around the outside like a 747 Boeing gaining momentum on the runway. She hit the front as they hit the finishing straight and never looked like being beaten as she ended her season on a high. Semenya says: ‘I knew I had to go off quite quickly because I was in lane one and I wanted a good look in the beginning. I was happy to wait for that last 200m because I wasn’t really worried about anyone in particular in this field. I’ve felt good at these Games and not concerned about fast times, it was the medal that counted. When I came around the outside of that last bend it was like a sling?shot throwing me to the front. My two main goals this year were world champs and these Games to make it to the final at worlds and to get this medal here. It’s also nice to get a bit of consistency going, with times around the two minute mark. Now it’s back to the books and my sports science studies in Potchefstroom.’
The other medals that came SA’s way were Jaco Engelbrecht’s bronze in the shot put as his best heave of 19.55m saw him lying second at one stage to eventual winner, Congo’s Elemba Waka (20.25) but an Egyptian rival overtook him in the final stages. Then there was another bronze for Fredriech Pretorius in the decathlon. Elsewhere, Commonwealth Games gold medallist Zack Piontek had a bye into the second round where he came up against Zambia’s Edward Kamwandi.
But the Zambian offered little resistance and within a minute of the start he was into the quarter?final, winning by ippon, with a yokotoemaga throw. That saw him into the quarter-final where he took on Ghana’s Victo Ahiavor. His opponent proved to be extremely strong but not very correct in the technical aspects of judo and Piontek was soon ahead as Ahiavorpicked up a shido (penalty) in the first minute.
Thirty seconds later and both fighters had another shido against their name, one for Piontek and two for the Ghanaian. The deciding moment came just 12 seconds later as Piontek was able to come up with the ippon moment, winning with an uchi?mata throw. The semi-final was against Tunisia’s Oussam Snoussi and although Pretoria’s Piontek was up with a yuko and a few shido’s against his opponent’s names the north African finally shaded a low–?scoring match.
In the bronze medal match where Piontek took on Tunisia’s Ahmed Lahmadi he would emerge victorious.