The record books were rewritten by a host of South African athletes during a spectacular 2016 season, with multiple national marks and a rare global best being set across a variety of disciplines.
Aside from the medals earned at major international championships this year, which included four at the Rio Olympics, local athletes made history by taking their respective events to new heights.
Wayde van Niekerk led the charge, setting a new world record in the 400m sprint, eclipsing the stellar mark of 43.18 held by American great Michael Johnson to take gold in Rio in a superb time of 43.03.
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The versatile speedster also shattered the SA 300m best over the rarely run distance in Kingston in June, chopping 0.60 off his own mark and climbing to third place on the all-time list behind Johnson and Jamaican star Usain Bolt.
Caster Semenya coasted to a new career best at the Olympic Games, winning the women’s 800m final in a national record of 1:55.28.
At the CAA 20th African Senior Championships in Durban in April, Semenya joined Wenda Nel, Justine Palframan and Jeanelle Griesel in victory as they stormed to a new SA 4x400m relay mark of 3:28.49, breaking the 12-year-old record of 3:30.12.
Elsewhere on the track, Olympic finalist Akani Simbine broke new ground when he covered the 100m distance in 9.89sec, taking 0.07 off his own SA best in the short sprint. Simbine was ranked fifth in the 100m sprint, with his SA record.
Middle-distance runner Elroy Gelant also took a big step forward this year, smashing Stephen Mokoka’s national 5 000m record by nearly seven seconds, clocking 13:04.88 at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Hengelo in May.
On the road, Bongumusa Mthembu broke Bruce Fordyce’s 27-year-old 100km record (6:25:07), earning the silver medal at the global championships in Los Alcazares last month by crossing the line in 6:24:05.
Mthembu’s 100km World Championships performance saw him end the year in second place.
Race walker Lebogang Shange took 1min 37sec off his own SA record, covering the 20km distance in 1:20:06 in Adelaide in February, while Anel Oosthuizen clocked 1:34.49 in the women’s event in Podebrady in April, bettering the previous mark of 1:36:18 set by Susan Vermeulen in 1999.
SA athletes were also boldly prominent in the world rankings, with Van Niekerk (400m) and Semenya (800m) achieving the fastest times in the world this year in their specialist events.
Van Niekerk was also ranked 15th in the world in the 200m sprint (20.02), while Semenya was 12th in the women’ s 400m dash (50.40) and 14th in the 1 500m (4:01.99).
Olympic long jump silver medallist Luvo Manyonga was ranked second this season with a best leap of 8.48m, achieved shortly after the Rio Games.
Ruswahl Samaai closed the year in sixth spot in the men’s long jump (8.38m) and Victor Hogan was also sixth in the discus throw (67.62m), though his anti-doping sanction remains under appeal.
Another Olympic silver medallist, national javelin throw queen Sunette Viljoen, finished the season in eighth position with a best heave of 65.14m.
Eight other SA athletes – Wenda Nel (12th, 400m hurdles, 54.47), Gift Kelehe (14th, 100km, 6:43:00), LJ van Zyl (15th, 400m hurdles, 48.67), Stefan Brits (17th, long jump, 8.22m), David Gatebe (17th, 100km, 6:44:34), Antonio Alkana (18th, 110m hurdles, 13.28), Elroy Gelant (19th, 5 000m, 13:04.88) and Lynique Prinsloo (20th, long jump, 6.78m) – ended the year among the Top 20 in the world in their respective events.
– African News Agency (ANA)