Athletes can look back at a solid season


After a solid build-up in 2011, South Africa’s top-flight athletes will be confident heading into the Olympic year.

While the SA squad finished only 17th on the table at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu in September, they secured two silvers and two bronze medals for their best haul since 2003.

LJ van Zyl shone in his specialist event, securing bronze in the men’s 400m hurdles to cap a superb season.

He clocked the four fastest times in the world over the one-lap barriers in 2011, tearing up the track in the early part of the year and setting a new national record of 47,66 seconds in the process.

Caster Semenya led the way among the women, turning out her best performance in two seasons to finish second in the 800m final in Daegu in 1:56,35secs – her fastest time since she clinched the world title in Berlin in 2009.

Semenya was anything but consistent this year, though she produced some world-class performances, dipping under 1:59 five times.

The men’s 4x400m relay team pulled off the biggest surprise in the SA world championships squad, bagging silver after the controversial ommission of Oscar Pistorius.

The double amputee competed in the heats, helping the SA quartet to a new national record of 2:59,21secs, but was replaced by Van Zyl, the fastest flat 400m sprinter in the country this season, for the final.

Van Zyl, Shane Victor, Ofentse Mogawane and Willem de Beer went on to clinch silver behind favourites the United States, though Pistorius earned a medal, making history at the event.

Sunette Viljoen, meanwhile, continued her steady rise in the women’s javelin throw, securing bronze in Daegu as she improved her own African record to 68.38m to reach the podium in a hotly contested final.

Despite finding form late in the season, Viljoen threw over 65m on four occassions.

Ruben Ramolefi bettered his own national best with a spectacular performance in the first round of the men’s 3 000m steeplechase at the global championships, hitting the front early to clock 8:11,50secs.

And while she failed to impress at international level, Tebogo Masehla also improved her national record, crossing the line in 9:54,19secs in the women’s 3 000m steeplechase in Lede in June.

Elsewhere, SA distance runners performed reasonably well on the roads, led by Rene Kalmer who set a 2:29,59secs personal best with her breakthough marathon performance in Yokohama in November.

Lusapho April had an impressive marathon debut in Hannover, clocking 2:09,25secs in May, while Stephen Mokoka churned out a 1:01,42secs half-marathon in Yangzhou in April.

In ultra-marathon events, Lindsay van Aswegen finished third in 7:42,05secs for a well deserved bronze medal at the World 100km Championships in Winschoten in September.

Zimbabwean Stephen Muzhingi bagged his third straight victory in the 86th edition of the Comrades Marathon in May, while Russian Elena Nurgalieva bagged her sixth win in nine years in the women’s race.

Nurgalieva’s twin sister, Olesya, had shone five weeks earlier, winning the 56km Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town in 3:33,58secs for her third title in four years, with South African George Ntshiliza winning the men’s race in 3:08,31secs.

Mokoka was the stand-out cross country performer, finishing 15th in the senior men’s 12km race at the World Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, in March, leading the team to an impressive fifth place. Rene Kalmer was 31st in the senior women’s 8km race, with the team finishing ninth.