South Africa’s athletics champions came from all corners of the country to bear witness to the majestic spectacle of a fully packed NWU Kenneth McArthur Stadium reflecting in their eyes.
In an instant, the #FillupPotch social media frenzy became a reality when the ASA National Senior Athletics Championships took place in Potchefstroom last weekend, from 21-22 April.
Only an elite few of these champions conquered the athletics amphitheatre in Potch, where they stood tall like Roman soldiers during battle. In two days of athletics warfare, only the strong survived with silverware and the knowledge that they are at the top of the athletics food chain.
Olympians, Wayde van Niekerk, Caster Semenya, Akani Simbine, Sunette Viljoen and Luvo Manyonga did not disappoint and ended the SA Championships with gold around their necks.
The highly anticipated 100- and 200- metre men’s finals were an epic display of speed, power and showmanship where Simbine made the first big statement with a 9.95 second run in the 100-metre dash to take gold and cement the SA record holder as one to watch at the World Champs. Van Niekerk made amends on Saturday, however, when he eased to victory in the 200 metres in a time of 19.90, just 0.3 seconds off Anaso Jobodwana’s 200-metre record.
Manyonga was also one of the attractions of the weekend as he posted a new South African record in the men’s long jump with a groundbreaking 8.65-metre jump in his first and only attempt. The Gauteng North athlete soaked up every bit of the atmosphere as the crowd went wild for the Olympic silver medalist. The chances are good that Manyonga will take gold at the World Champs in London in August if he carries on leaping to new heights.
North West’s Caster Semenya was in cruise control during her events and took gold in both the women’s 400- and 800-metre events with relative ease. Sunette Viljoen was also on top of her game in the women’s javelin and continued her path towards the World Championships with a gold medal-winning, 63.49-metre throw.
The feel-good story of the championship belongs to hammer throw legend, Chris Harmse, who defied all the odds with a 22nd consecutive SA hammer throw gold medal. This secured him a new world record in terms of consecutive titles in a track and field event. Harmse was involved in a fierce battle with Tshepang Makhete and Renaldo Frechou and needed to beat Frechou’s throw of 70.30 with one final throw. Big match temperament was needed and the 43-year-old delivered with a 70.53-metre throw to take the title with tears of joy flowing from his eyes.
‘I want to say thank you to the Father, Jesus Christ my Saviour and the Holy Spirit for guiding me for 22 years. I was out of this game, my knees were really bad and I pulled through. My father, family and friends are always there for me and support me through thick and thin. It is just an amazing feeling to win this title,’ said an emotional Harmse.
Athletes, spectators, the national media and officials agreed that this was one of the best organised and attended SA Athletics Championships in recent memory. The ASA president, Aleck Skhosana, also echoed these sentiments. ‘On behalf of the board of ASA, I thank the athletes, coaches, relevant managers, the NWU, the Lottery Board, Central North West Athletics, the local organising committee, all athletics officials and members of the media for working together to make this the success it was.’
This golden phase in SA Athletics must be cherished and valued as athletics is, once again, a talking point in South African sport.
Photos: Wouter Pienaar