African Champs highlights: SA team shines with victory in defeat

After a four-year gap created by the Covid pandemic, South Africa’s top track and field athletes got a chance to test themselves against their continental peers at the African Athletics Championships in Mauritius, which came to a close on Sunday.

While they ultimately settled for second place behind Kenya, and a lot of things just didn’t go their way, there were some memorable moments for the SA team throughout the five-day event.

Simbine finds form

It might seem strange to praise the defending champion for not retaining his title, but it was a relief to see national record holder Akani Simbine hitting his straps again in the 100m event.

Simbine was edged out for gold by just 0.003 by Kenyan star Ferdinand Omanyala in a photo finish, as both athletes were credited with the same time (9.93) in the final.

It was the first time the South African dipped under 10 seconds this season, as he displayed the best form he has shown since last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

In a 2022 campaign which is packed with major international championships, the country’s fastest man looks to be approaching his peak at just the right time.

Fighting to the finish

Though her result was nothing to shout about, purely in terms of position, distance runner Cian Oldknow stood out just by finishing her race.

Oldknow stumbled on the first lap of the women’s 10 000m race and dislocated her shoulder, which forced her off the track.

After popping her shoulder back into place, she gritted her teeth and returned to the race.

While her compatriot, Glenrose Xaba, was fighting for sixth place near the front, Oldknow was unable to close the gap, but she held on to cross the line in 12th place in 33:19.39.

Historic medal haul

The national squad were ultimately unlucky not to finish top of the table, with Kenya securing 10 gold medals to the SA team’s nine.

While the Kenyan squad earned 23 medals, however, South Africa bagged 36, which was the biggest medal haul by the country at the African Championships since 1993.

The end result again exposed the flaws of a medals table system which essentially focusses on golds.

International athletics officials really need to reconsider this, with a points system for finalists providing a much more clear and fair assessment of which teams have performed best at championship events.

Sharing podiums

The SA team managed to dominate in some disciplines by taking multiple medals.

In the women’s javelin throw, Jo-Ane van Dyk earned gold in the final with a best attempt of 60.65m, leading a South African clean sweep. McKyla van der Westhuizen grabbed silver (55.55m) and Jana van Schalkwyk secured bronze (54.49m).

Zeney van der Walt (56.00) and Taylon Bieldt (56.67) bagged gold and silver in the women’s 400m hurdles, and there was another one-two for Werner Visser (61.80m) and Victor Hogan (58.95m) in the men’s discus throw.

Mire Reinstorf (3.80m) and Nicole Jansen van Rensburg (3.70) took gold and bronze in the women’s pole vault, while Fredriech Pretorius (7 504 points) and Jesse Perez (7 396) were second and third respectively in the decathlon, and sprinter Henricho Bruintjies was third behind Simbine in the men’s 100m final.