South Africa’s pair of Rio Olympic gold medallists, Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya powered their way to impressive victories in the Diamond League in Monaco on Friday night.
Van Niekerk won the 400-metre, Semenya the 800m, and both found themselves in quality races, having to put in an honest night’s work to earn gold and at the same time enjoy a perfect warm-up for next month’s World Championships.
The two South Africans competed within 10 minutes of each other and it was first Van Niekerk who raced to victory in a meeting record 43.73sec. That’s not his quickest of the year, having run 0.11sec quicker but it was the perfect warm-up for next month’s IAAF World Championships in London.
He was pushed hard by fellow African Isaac Makwala in the final stages and there wasn’t much time for slacking off in the final straight.
‘I’m feeling positive about it. My body feels to be in great shape and this win from behind gives me confidence.
‘We still are not peaking, we trained hard last week and all should be okay for London and my double (200, 400m).
Van Niekerk was still recovering from his winning efforts when Semenya battled it out with her fellow African Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and gutsy American Ajee Wilson.
She had to work harder than usual down the main straight before upping the ante down the home straight to clock a world-leading 1:55:27, just 0.20sec ahead of Niyonsaba.
‘I showed my strength tonight it was a hard fight until the end,’ said Semenya. ‘The girls surprised me how good they ran.
‘I think I can run really fast, we are training for that. Now we must decide, maybe tonight, what I’ll do in London, if it’s only the 800m, or also the 400m or 1500m.’
A handful of other South Africans were in action with 400m hurdler Wenda Nel off in the first track race of the evening.
She ran a frustrating race, ending fifth in 55.90sec, some way off her season’s best 54.58 as American Kori Carter blitzed the field to win in 53.36 a full 0.66sec clear of her fellow American Shamier Little in the runners-up spot.
Afterwards Nel said: ‘That was just frustrating. I felt really good in warm-up and head was nice and positive. I felt so good.
‘But to be very honest, technically I messed up big time tonight.
‘But on the other hand I’m not bothered or stressed. I hit hurdle two very hard and have a pretty sore knee now and then at hurdle six I also ran very bad technically which meant the last two hurdles I didn’t attack at all. I just wasn’t smooth and stretched too much.
‘But that’s hurdles for you.. one race is completely different to the other.
Putting on a brave face she summed up. ‘I think that’s my slowest time of the season but it was all down to technical error. I truly hope and really believe that world’s will be a lot better better. Two weeks ago in London I ran great, felt great and the time was great so we’ll just hold on to that for now.’
Middle distance ace Dominique Scott was out to get a personal best in the women’s 3000m and she did exactly that. Running against a top-quality field the United States based athlete, only professional for just over a year, ended 11th in 8:41.33, slicing a nice chunk off her old best (8:46.65).
The race was bullied by Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, who won in a world-leading 8:23.14.
‘I felt good until 2000m and then had to start pushing through the pain,’ said Scott. ‘I lost contact with the girls just in front of me on the second last lap but on the last lap I felt strong and closed hard so it was good to smash that 8.45 goal. Eleventh spot may not look that impressive but they’re all stud athletes… give me another year or so and I’ll be there.’
Akani Simbine was the final South African in track action and was part of history as eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt ran his final Diamond League race – the 100m (the same distance will be his final race at next month’s World Championships).
As he so often does ,the big man stepped up when it counted and ran a season’s best 9.95sec to beat compatriot Isiah Young by 0.03sec.
Simbine, South Africa’s fastest man with a 9.89sec best, didn’t look to be at his best on Friday but his 10.02 was still good for the final podium place.