Broken dreams for Team SA’s athletics squad at World Championships meet

Broken dreams for Team SA’s athletics squad at World Championships meet
Wayde van Niekerk of Team South Africa competes in the Men's 400m Final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. (Photo: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

Disappointment for SA as medals hopefuls bomb out, leaving it up to Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya and Ethiopia to bring in the hardware for Africa.

Team South Africa has once again failed to deliver on the track and on the field at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

A team of 36 athletes represented the country, with only a smattering of realistic medal hopes among them.

African 110m hurdles record holder Antonio Alkana, former World Championships finalist Victor Hogan (discus), and former Diamond League meeting winners Zakithi Nene (400m) and Luxolo Adams (200m) all failed to make the finals.

Among a relatively young women’s contingent, Commonwealth Games medallist Zeney van der Walt (400m hurdles) and SA record holder Marione Fourie (100m hurdles) were also eliminated before the final.

The likes of the British Virgin Islands, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic all won medals.

Faith Kipyegon of Team Kenya comfortably won the 1500m Final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. (Photo by Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

Waning Wayde

Wayde van Niekerk, the 400m world-record holder, was obviously the best hope, especially as he had posted the leading time of the year: 44.08, set in Poland a month before the World Championships.

After six injury-plagued years, the result of tearing a ligament in a touch rugby match in 2017, the two-time world champion looked as if he might complete a fairytale comeback.

But the 2016 Olympic champion’s form waned during the competition. In his first heat, he was second-quickest of 41 athletes, posting 44.58. 

In the semifinals a few days later, he faded badly, finishing third in his race in 44.65. He was well beaten by Jamaica’s Antonio Watson, who clocked 44.13 and the US’s Vernon Norwood, with a season’s best of 44.26.

By finishing outside the top two, Van Niekerk had a nervous wait to see if his time would be good enough to be one of the two fastest losers and get him into the final.

It was, and a relieved Van Niekerk lived to fight another day. After his semi, he said: “People didn’t give up on me even when I had given up on myself. They showed me strength when I was weak, so this has been a massive journey of gratitude.”

In the final, Van Niekerk again fell apart in the final 100m, finishing eighth out of eight in 45.11 (eventually he was awarded seventh after Kirani James was disqualified).

Watson won the final in 44.22, more than a second slower than Van Niekerk’s 43.03 world record and a smidgen slower than Van Niekerk’s season’s best.

Team SA’s hope dashed at World Championships meet

Akani Simbine in action in the Men’s 100m heats at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on 19 August. He failed to qualify for the finals. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Simbine shock

The other main medal hope was 100m sprinter Akani Simbine. The likeable 29-year-old, who has been in five World Championships and two Olympic finals without a medal, seemed in decent form.

“My coach and I have been very happy with my training and I know I am in good shape and it excites me. I am aiming to win. It would be massive for me, my country and the first time for an African runner,” Simbine said before the competition.

And he immediately lived up to his hopes. In his first heat he clocked 9.97, indicating that the form was there for a realistic assault on a medal. No African man had ever won a World Championship medal in the 100m. Ironically, it would not be Simbine to achieve that milestone. Unfortunately, in the cutthroat world of sprinting, where athletes are primed to blast out of the starting blocks, Simbine got it wrong in the semifinal.

He reacted a smidgen too quickly, false-started and was disqualified. It was a hammer blow for Simbine and a crushing disappointment for Team SA.

“As far as I am concerned I reacted to the gun, but the officials saw it differently,” Simbine said. “I’m in the shape of my life but I guess no one will see that now.”

Simbine still has a chance of a medal with the men’s 4x100m relay team, which will include Shaun Maswanganyi and Benjamin Richardson.

Team SA’s hope dashed at World Championships meet

Joshua Cheptegei of Team Uganda wins the Men’s 10,000m Final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. (Photo: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

African excellence

American Noah Lyles went on to win the gold medal in 9.83 and, to add insult to disqualification for Simbine, Botswana’s rising star Letsile Tebogo took the silver in 9.88, to become the first African man to win a medal in 100m at the World Championships.

“It really shows that the continent has a lot of potential, looking at the likes of Ferdinand and Akani,” Tebogo said after his history-making run in Budapest.

Burkina Faso’s Hugues Fabrice Zango earned his first global title in the men’s triple jump. The 30-year-old, France-based athlete, who already holds an Olympic bronze and world silver and bronze, completed his collection with the best of all colours.

Ethiopian women swept the podium in the 10,000m with Gudaf Tsegay, Letesenbet Giday and Ejgayehu Taye taking gold, silver and bronze.

Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei won the men’s 10,000m, with Kenya’s Daniel Ebenyo and Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega second and third.

The magnificent Kenyan Faith Kipyegon comfortably won the women’s 1,500m, with Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteje taking silver. DM

This article first appeared in our Daily Maverick weekly newspaper, DM168, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andre Swart says:

    No medal!

    What a disgrace!

    Fire the minister …!

  • Alpha Sithole says:

    Our most experienced athletes really disappointed with some very basic errors – a false start in a World Championship final and dropping the baton in a relay final is inexcusable. This was not a high school track meeting but a gathering of the most talented athletes in the world – simply not good enough. For Simbine to lay blame on ASA is too easy.

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