The Beijing International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships are upon us and South Africa has recently found international recognition with athletic performances that have brought records home. Athletics South Africa (ASA) has announced that it will be sending one of its strongest squads in recent years to compete at the world championships, with many athletes hailing from the Tuks High Performance Centre (HPC). The championships will begin on 22 August. Here’s who to look out for.
Wenda Nel (400 m hurdles)
Nel has become one of five South African women to qualify for the world championships. Nel ran a time of 54.37 seconds in May during a race in Beijing, setting a new personal best and becoming the third South African woman to run under 55 seconds. She has her sights set on reaching the finals in the world championships, with a new-found confidence in her abilities. She described the sub-55 as a milestone that made her “realise that [she] has what it takes to compete against the best’’. She will face the current world record holder, USA star Shamier Little, who recently became the youngest women ever to break the 54-second barrier.
LJ van Zyl (400 m hurdles)
Van Zyl, the current South African record holder in his field, has made his way back into the spotlight this year. Van Zyl was able to break the 49-second barrier three times in this international season after almost two years of being unable to do so. Van Zyl has gained confidence from this going into the world championship, saying, “Things are getting better and better. It feels good to be back in the 48s.” He drew particular attention in the Manchester Great City Games where he equalled the world record for the 200 m hurdles of 22.10 seconds.
Cornel Fredericks (400 m hurdles)
After suffering from an Achilles tendon injury, Fredericks has been kept from pursuing his streak of glory after becoming a gold medallist in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Fredericks qualified for the world championships in Madrid after ten months of no racing. He is excited about this performance, saying, “It was a strange feeling. I was not sure where my fitness level was at or how my body would react. I am building myself back to the best.”
Marc Mundell (50 km race walker)
Mundell was the first South African male race walker in 52 years to compete at the Olympic Games when he did so in 2012. His 2012 race also set the 50 000 m African record with a time of 3 hours 55 minutes and 32 seconds. He will compete in his second world championship in Beijing and is determined to make the most of the opportunity, saying, “I hope to be in shape to improve my personal best and secure another qualification performance for the Olympic Games in Rio next year.” This will be his fourth 50 km event since the 2012 Olympic Games, as he can only participate in a maximum of two races per year.
Lebogang Shange (20 km race walker)
Shange holds the South African record for this event with a time of 1 hour 21 minutes and 50 seconds, which he set earlier this year in Switzerland. Shange also took the gold medal at the IAAF Race Walk challenge this year in Dudinska, Slovakia, becoming the first South African to win an event in this series. He believes he has reached a peak in his career and abilities, saying, “I have started to race with [an] attitude of fearlessness.” He has set his gaze on breaking the 1 hour 20 minutes mark in Beijing, and hopes to finish in the top ten. He has explained that he will attempt to set a faster time over the first 10 km.
Orazio Cremona (shot put)
Cremona has displayed a personal best throw of 20.63 m, which is currently the second furthest in South Africa. Cremona is the reigning African champion, according to the rules of IAAF, and qualified for Beijing in Stellenbosch earlier this year. His goal at the world championships is to break through to the 21 m mark with a place in the top eight. He feels confident about this, saying, “My performances have shown my potential. I finished in fourth place in the Commonwealth Games and seventh in the Indoor World Championships last year.”
Akani Simbine (100 m)
Simbine made international headlines this year during a race in Slovenia when he crossed the finish line as the second South African sprinter to dip below the ten-second barrier. His record was overtaken a few days later by sprinting rival Henrico Bruintjies, who set a new South African record of 9.97 seconds. Simbine was determined however, and competed in the World Student Games in South Korea to break the barrier for a second time, equalling 9.97 seconds and sharing the position as the fastest South African sprinter. He will face the world’s top sprinters in Beijing, with the likes of Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin competing. Undaunted by his fellow competitors, Simbine says, “I have to do what I have to do, just like those guys have to do what they have to do. My goal is to make the final and run my best, because my best will always be enough.”
Henrico Bruintjies (100 m)
Bruintjies bolted into the limelight this year with an unexpected sub-ten during a race in Switzerland. With a previous personal best of 10.06 seconds, Bruintjies became the third South African athlete to break the ten-second barrier and set an all-time South African record of 9.97 seconds. Like Simbine, he too will go up against the world’s best in Beijing without any sense of apprehension, saying, “My focus is not going to be on anyone other than myself. I am going to Beijing to execute a proper race and bring the best that I have.” He was kept out of the World Student Games because of a gluteal injury, and has since recovered completely.