Simbine and Sekgodiso shine for South Africa at Oslo Diamond League

Simbine and Sekgodiso shine for South Africa at Oslo Diamond League
From left: Emmanuel Eseme of Cameroon, Brandon Hicklin of the US, Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy, Akani Simbine of South Africa, and Yohan Blake of Jamaica at the men’s 100 metres at the World Athletics Diamond League Bislett Games 2024 at Bislett Stadium, in Oslo, Norway. 30 May 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Heiko Junge)

The Bislett Games in Oslo served up an impressive South African double less than two months before the start of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

As warm-ups for the Olympics go, the Oslo Diamond League meeting in Norway, known as the Bislett Games, is a good, but not infallible indicator of who is tracking well for the Paris showpiece.

The Oslo event is one of the highlights of the annual calendar and has been for more than 40 years in various guises. It’s where athletes want to perform well and two of South Africa’s leading runners have put the world on notice.

On Thursday night, Oslo had a strong South Africa flavour as new 800m sensation Prudence Sekgodiso and perennial sprint star Akani Simbine won their races against high-quality opposition.

Sekgodiso is in the midst of a purple patch and her victory in Oslo in a time of 1:58.66 underlined that her stunning win in Marrakech 10 days prior was no fluke.

Prudence Sekgodiso

Prudence Sekgodiso holds off the opposition for an impressive victory in the women’s 800m at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway. 30 May 2024. (Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

In Morocco, at the Wanda Diamond League meeting, the 22-year-old Sekgodiso clocked a world leading time of 1:57.26, which shaved 0.79 seconds off her own personal best.

In Oslo, Sekgodiso had a comfortable lead with 200 metres to go and despite a fast finish from Natoya Goule-Toppin, she held on to win to maintain her unbeaten start to the year.

During the local South African campaign Sekgodiso was in imperious form, going through the season undefeated in the 800m and 1500m, which included winning the national championships.

Prudence Sekgodiso

Prudence Sekgodiso celebrates after winning the women’s 800-metre final at Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway. 30 May 2024. (Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

But it wasn’t until her superb performance in Marrakech, where she held off Tokyo Olympic finalist Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia that the world started to take notice.

She is now clearly a marked runner with the Paris Games looming. Kenya’s Mary Motaa and the USA’s defending Olympic champion Athing Mu, who stated her sole focus is on the 800m in 2024, and Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson are the three favourites, but Sekgodiso has the potential to upset the recognised hierarchy.

In the men’s 100m, Akani Simbine took the Oslo race, beating Italy’s current Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs among others.

Akani Simbine

South Africa’s Akani Simbine won the 100m in a time of 9.94 seconds at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Beate Oma Dahle)

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA sprinters finish strongly at World Relays to qualify for Olympics

Britain’s Jeremiah Azu led at halfway but then pulled up with what appeared to be a slight injury. Simbine, the Commonwealth champion, powered ahead to win in a season’s best of 9.94 from Japan’s Hakim Sani Brown (9.99). Jacobs was third in a season’s best of 10.03.

Impressive performances

It was a night of impressive performances but the best belonged to Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet, who produced the standout performance of the evening — and one of the biggest surprises of the year so far – when winning the men’s 5000m in 12:36.73.

It was one of three meeting records and five world leads set just two months away from the Paris Olympic Games. It was also the second fastest time in history over the distance.

Going into the men’s 5000m, many eyes were on world record-holder and Olympic champion Joshua Cheptegei, two-time world cross-country champion Jacob Kiplimo and last year’s Bislett Games winner Yomif Kejelcha.

But Gebrhiwet — who produced the first sub-13-minute run of his career on this track as a teenager back in 2012 — ensured his name won’t be forgotten in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The 30-year-old Gebrhiwet, whose last major global track medal was bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, passed teammate Kejelcha with 400m remaining, clocking a blistering 54.99 seconds on his final lap.

“The time I achieved is very nice,” said Gebrhiwet, who narrowly missed beating Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei’s world record of 12:35.36.

“The conditions, the crowd was great and it was a very fast race, not easy for me but it was going very well.”

Hagos Gebrhiwet

Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet (right) crosses the finish line to win the men’s 5,000m race at the London Stadium in London, Britain. 20 July 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Neil Hall)

Local favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen hurled himself across the finish line to win the men’s 1500m in the final race of the meeting.

Ingebrigtsen, who had been beaten by British arch-rival Josh Kerr in the mile five days earlier in Eugene, lunged at the finish line to hold off hard-charging Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot.

The photo-finish showed the Olympic champion diving to cross the line in 3:29.74, the world’s fastest time this season and only three-hundredths of a second quicker than Cheruiyot.

“I really do not think that it was the decision I made to dive into the finish line, because everything just happened so fast,” said Ingebrigtsen, who flashed a No. 1 finger to the camera at the start line.

“I can tell you that I was getting sore in the last 50 metres, I was expecting someone to come from the outside, so I was very prepared to give it 100%.”

Ingebrigtsen bounced back to his feet after his spectacular lunge, throwing celebratory mock punches and then challenging the meet mascot — a giant strawberry — to a short sprint race, to the delight of the crowd.

“Every day I feel better and better,” he said. “About defending the titles at the Europeans and Olympics, I think yes,” he said, with the European Championships starting in Rome on 7 June and the Paris Games on 26 July.

Brazil’s Alison dos Santos handed Norway’s Olympic and world champion Karsten Warholm a rare defeat in the men’s 400m hurdles.

Dos Santos crossed in 46.63 seconds, while Warholm went out like a rocket before fading in the final 50m to finish in 46.70 — which were two of the fastest times ever.

“I had to keep the mindset that I wanted to win,” Dos Santos said. “It’s going to be amazing in Paris 2024. I’m so excited about the things I can do. Everything before Paris is just a preparation for that. Only thing I can say is just watch.”

Warholm hit the last hurdle quite hard. “That didn’t help,” he said. “I am happy with the race but of course, I always come to win so there is no way around that.” DM

Additional reporting by Reuters.


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