Middle-distance queen Caster Semenya will chase Ilze Wicksell’s long-standing South African 1 000m record when she makes her debut over the rarely run distance at the second leg of the Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix series at Tuks Stadium on Thursday night.
Semenya sat down with local media ahead of the race and shared some thoughts, insights and updates in the early stages of the new season.
Change of environment
After enjoying a successful three-year period in Potchefstroom, with former coach Jean Verster guiding her to world and Olympic titles, Semenya has moved back to Pretoria in order to settle down with her wife Violet Raseboya. She is now being coached by Samuel Sepeng, the younger brother of former Olympic 800m silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng.
“I have left Potchefstroom because I’m done with my studies (at North-West University) but I’ve been working with Samuel Sepeng and he will take over now. Jean has family in Potchefstroom, and other commitments, so it’s not personal. It’s just business. My marriage and my family are my priorities. That’s my duty.”
Fit and healthy
With the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Semenya is likely to be in better shape than she would usually be at this time of the year. With a few more races planned on home soil this month, giving her the chance to sharpen up, she hopes to be firing on all cylinders with a bit of fine-tuning.
“We’re sticking to the basics. For us it’s not about pushing the body hard, it’s about training smart. We’re happy with where we are and I think we’re ready for the Commonwealth Games. We had a good base – about four months – and now it’s just a matter of time, jumping into specific training and seeing how fast we can go throughout the season.”
SA record attempt
Despite the race being held at altitude, Semenya is expected to launch an assault on the oldest record in the South African track and field books, as she targets Ilze Wicksell’s 35-year-old national 1 000m mark of 2:37.20. With former SA champion Gena Lofstrand and Ugandan athlete Winnie Nanyondo both expected to give her a push in Pretoria, it should be well within Semenya’s reach.
“The main target will be to break the national record, but it all depends how we run the first 800m. If that goes well we can run a good 1 000m, but it’s about the markings and hitting the splits. I have good opponents so I’m excited. We must just go out there and have fun.”
Support ‘our’ athletes
Organisers of the Grand Prix series have been praised for bringing global stars back to SA shores for the first time in seemingly ages, and for providing opportunities to the domestic elite. They have also received a backlash from some athletes and managers, however, for allegedly splashing the budget on appearance fees for big-name foreigners at the expense of local stars.
“Obviously it’s a good series, but I think the most important thing is to look after our own athletes so they can be developed. It’s on home soil, so South African athletes must be a priority. The main focus must be to put as many of our athletes as we can in the races, and then pick international athletes here and there to balance it.”
Commonwealth Games debut
Though she has stepped on the podium at the last two Olympic Games, and three of the last five editions of the World Championships, Semenya has never competed at the Commonwealth Games. Should she earn 800m gold in Australia next month, she will simultaneously hold the world, Olympic, Commonwealth and African two-lap titles.
“This is a very important one for me. I missed the last two Commonwealth Games, and now I’m just trying my best to stay healthy. If I win I will hold all major titles, which is quite a good collection for an athlete, so I’ll just stay focussed on trying to win as much as I can.”