South Africa has two ladies taking their shot at glory on Women’s Day. Caster Semenya will compete in the 800m semi-final while Sunette Viljoen is in the javelin throw final. By ANT SIMS.
To say Caster Semenya had a bumpy start to life would be an understatement. From growing up in some tough circumstances to a gender controversy which rocked her life when she was just a teenager, Semnya’s been in the deep end. But she’s come out on top of the podium and smiling and has set herself up for the top of another podium—an Olympic one.
She qualified for the women’s 800 metres semi-final Wednesday, crossing the line in second place with a time of 2:00:71 minutes. Alysia Johnson Montano, who was fast out the blocks and was in the lead from the start to finish, set the pace with a time of 2:00:47.
Semenya’s race was more calculated, and she only really gave it a full go in the second lap. In fact, Semenya sat back until the final 100m, when she surged forward from third and came ever so close to beating Montano to the tape.
“The race seems to be okay, it was a little bit faster from the first lap, I just had to maintain the pace to finish in the top three,” Semenya said.
“It is very important, 800m is a tactical race. You have to know how to run from back to front... that is the way to run 800m.
“For you to be a good contender, you have to run under two minutes, so that is what I am looking for.”
The race featured another historic competitor. Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia’s first woman track athlete, finished stone-last in the final qualifying heat, but the Olympic Spirit was alive and well at the track as the whole stadium stood and up to give her a standing ovation.
“It’s an incredible experience,” said Attar, who has dual United States citizenship and is a student at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles.
Elsewhere, a lesser known, but no less important Sunette Viljoen has also muscled herself into medal contention. The javelin thrower qualified for her first Olympic final on Wednesday, topping her qualification group on her first attempt with a throw of 65.92m.
“Qualification rounds always bring another kind of pressure, but I am very happy and in (the World Championships at) Daegu (South Korea) I also threw a 65m in the qualifying round and I won a medal,” said Viljoen.
“I take a lot of positives out of it and now I can really relax. I’ve never been in an Olympic final,” she said. “I am so happy that I could have done this for myself and my country. It’s nice to have that confidence that you don’t have to stand back for anyone or anything else no matter (what the) size, length or stature.”
Viljoen is no stranger to the Olympics, she made her debut at the Athens Games in 2004 as a 19 year old, and now at 28 she is pleased to have gone through the motions and have made it to the finals with a good distance to boot.
“I take a lot of positives out of it and now I can really relax. I’ve never been in an Olympic final,” she said. “I am just very happy that everything has come together. There are so many emotions in the Olympics itself, so much hype and vibe and tears and a lot of excitement.”
Semenya’s semi-final race takes place on Thursday at 19:30 BST, while Viljoen’s event is at 21:00 BST. DM
Photos by Reuters.