SA’s Pillay and Richardson lay down a marker on the track as Olympic Games beckon

SA’s Pillay and Richardson lay down a marker on the track as Olympic Games beckon
Wayde Van Niekerk and Benjamin Richardson in the men’s 200m final at Msunduzi Athletics Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on 20 April 2024. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Several young athletes shone at the national track and field championships, booking their tickets to the Paris Olympics.

Lythe Pillay and Benjamin Richardson were the standout athletes at the national senior track and field championships in the past week.

pillay paris olympics

Lythe Pillay of South Africa in action in the Men’s 400m heats at the 2023 World Athletics Championships Budapest, Hungary. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Pillay recorded a rapid personal best of 44.31sec to beat a competitive field in the final of the 400m event.

The 21-year-old chased experienced 400m athlete Zakithi Nene for most of the race but accelerated in the last 100m to take the victory comfortably.

Nene also recorded a fast time, 44.80sec. Both athletes ran Olympic qualifying times, beating the 45sec requirement. 

Gardeo Isaacs (45.33) rounded out the podium, with Matt Nortje (45.48) close on the heels of South Africa’s top athletes in the single-lap discipline.

“It was fast from the gun. Zak went out hard, I could hear Matt and Gardeo coming up on the inside,” Pillay said after the race.

“I pretty much just told myself to just stick to the plan, stick to the race plan and I stuck to my strengths and it paid off.”

Pillay and Nene were part of South Africa’s cohort of athletes sent to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where they took part in the 4x400m relay.

The team failed to make the final. This time, Pillay, aiming to run in the 400m individual race too, will be looking to improve on that performance.

“From here, the whole aim is to remain consistent. I like to believe that you’re as fast as your next race, not your previous one,” he said.

“I’m not discrediting myself, but the whole plan is to remain consistent. If I can push the bar even more in Paris then do that.

“The difference for me from Champs last year and my first Olympics to this year is that I want to go from being a participant to being a contender.”

Rapid Richardson

Record-holder in the 400m event Wayde van Niekerk chose not to compete in his favoured event in Pietermaritzburg — while still focusing on it for the Olympics — but instead challenged for the national 200m crown.

richardson olympics

Benjamin Richardson (centre) of South Africa in action in the men’s 100m heats at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary on 19 August 2023. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Van Niekerk looked strongest in the heats and semifinal but was surprised by Benjamin Richardson in the inside lane in the final. The 20-year-old finished in 20.16sec, the exact Olympic qualifying time for the event.

He held on to the lead from the start, with Van Niekerk slightly behind in 20.31 sec and Sinesipho Dambile third in 20.37.

Only a handful of Olympic qualification times were set in the action at Pietermaritzburg’s Msunduzi Athletics Track.

There were two in the women’s 400m hurdles where first- and second-placed Zenéy Geldenhuys and Rogail Joseph finished in 54.72sec and 54.84, respectively, dipping under the 54.85 qualifying standard. 

There was heartbreak for Edmund du Plessis in the men’s 800m. Despite setting a personal best of 1:44.92, he was short by 0.22sec for Paris qualification. DM


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