The national athletics contingent played the biggest role in the SA team’s 37-medal haul at the Commonwealth Games, raking in a total of 14 podium places during the week-long track and field competition which came to a close on Saturday.
We look back on some of the country’s top performers.
Caster Semenya (800m gold, 1 500m gold)
Utilising her tactical experience, Semenya launched a late kick in the women’s 1 500m final to secure her maiden Commonwealth Games medal. Driving hard around the final bend, she burst clear of the rest of the field to win in 4:00.71, knocking 1.10 off Zola Budd’s 34-year-old SA record. Three days later she coasted to 800m gold in 1:56.68, becoming only the third woman to bag the middle-distance double at the Games.
“With the experience we have, we’re more mature – it has been almost 10 years running 800m – so for us it’s quite easy to run 800m and 1 500m, but 1 500m is the hardest because it’s beyond the distance I usually do. As an athlete you set goals and targets, and you need to take risks if you want to be the best.”
Akani Simbine (100m gold, 4x100m silver)
After giving the 200m event a miss, in order to focus on the 100m contest, his gamble paid off and Simbine stormed to a convincing victory in the final in 10.03 to win his first major senior international title. He went on to anchor the SA 4x100m relay team, shutting down the Australian quartet and the powerhouse Jamaican outfit to grab the silver medal in 38.24. They chopped 0.11 off the previous mark, taking second place behind England.
“I wasn’t surprised about the race (100m final). I knew I could win, and I knew I would win if I put together my race and made sure I got in front from the start. I believed in myself, I believed in the work that my coach (Werner Prinsloo) and I have done, and we made sure that by the time I got to the final I was ready to ensure I got to the line first.”
Luvo Manyonga (long jump gold)
Though he was locked in an early tussle with Australian athlete Henry Frayne, who took the lead with a leap of 8.33m in the second round, Manyonga took control with an 8.35m attempt in the fourth. He went on to cement the victory with an 8.41m Games record from his final effort, taking the stop step of the podium on his Commonwealth debut and bagging a one-two with compatriot Ruswahl Samaai, who earned bronze (8.22m).
“This was very important to me. It was my first Commonwealth Games and I got the gold medal with the Games record. It was on my bucket list of major competitions (this year) so I’ve already ticked the Commonwealth Games title. Now I’m looking for the Continental Cup, and there are still more to tick.”
Henricho Bruintjies (100m silver, 4x100m silver)
Having shown some of his best form on the domestic circuit, Bruintjies produced a superb performance in the 100m final. Though he was 0.14 off the pace of Simbine, dipping on the line in 10.17, he held off former world champion Yohan Blake of Jamaica by 0.02 to grab the silver medal. Bruintjies, who also got the 4x100m team off to a cracking start in the relay final, was one of only three South African athletes to earn two medals.
“For me personally, to get onto the podium was a big thing. I had to dig really deep for that one (100m silver) because I got into the final as one of the fastest losers, so no-one really gave me a chance, and I basically went out there and executed what I knew I was capable of doing. I always believed I was capable of competing and performing on the big stage. When the pressure’s on, that’s when I show up.”
Sunette Viljoen (javelin bronze)
If she hadn’t already established herself as the undisputed queen of consistency, Viljoen took firm grasp of her crown in the javelin throw final. Making an explosive return to top-flight competition, after battling with a back injury that kept her out of last year’s World Championships, she delivered a 62.08m effort with her opening attempt, which was enough for bronze. It was her fourth straight Commonwealth Games medal.
“I only had one competition before the Commonwealth Games. I couldn’t have done any more technically, and I prepared to the best of my ability with what my body was capable of, so I’m so happy to walk away with my bronze. Very proud. I just have to get my timing, which will slowly but surely come back, working towards Doha next year for the World Championships and then it will be my fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo (2020).”