Munyai unleashes storming 200m performance
Clarence Munyai rocked the Tuks athletics stadium to its foundations on Friday afternoon as he unleashed a storming 200m performance that is sure to reverberate around the world.
He clocked 19.69sec in the semifinals to smash the 19.84 South African record Wayde van Niekerk had set last year and place himself 10th on the all-time world list, just one-hundredth of a second off Frank Fredericks’ African mark.
Nobody has run this fast on planet Earth since 2015, when Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin managed to break 19.6.
Athletes have been running fast here at the national championships on this Mondo surface, especially under the baking Pretoria sun, but nobody expected Munyai’s lightning bolt from the blue.
Least of all the sprinter and his coach, Hennie Kriel.
The fans cheered when the stadium clock first flashed 19.70, and just when that was sinking in the announcer informed the crowd it had been rounded down even lower. There was a level of disbelief.
“I knew I had 19.8 in my legs and that’s what I thought I was going to run today,” added the sprinter. “But when I saw 19.7 I was like ‘Eish, I wasn’t expecting that’.
“I told myself coming into the semifinal I should try break that record because I knew the conditions were going to be good and I saw from yesterday they were running fast times,” added the 20-year-old, who matriculated last year.
Munyai was the standout on a day when former six-times 100m champion claimed his seventh crown, Carina Horn won the women’s 100m dash and Caster Semenya strolled to victory in the women’s 1500m after earlier running a fast 800m heat.
Hammer-thrower Chris Harmse won his 23rd straight national crown; Munyai wasn’t even born when Harmse took the first of his titles in 1996.
Even Harmse was blown away by the youngster’s showing.
The 0.15sec Munyai sliced off Van Niekerk’s record is the biggest chunk off this national mark in 22 years, when Riaan Dempers went 20.16 to down Tshakile Nzimande’s 20.31 in 1995.
After that it dropped in small amounts — 0.05 (Morne Nagel in 2002), then 0.05 (Anaso Jobodwana), 0.02 (Jobodwana again), 0.10 (Van Niekerk), 0.07 (Jobobwana) and then 0.03 (Van Niekerk).
Since 2015 the SA mark has dropped 0.42sec; Munyai hammered 0.41sec off his previous best time, 20.10 from 2017.
And he’ll need to go exactly half-a-second faster to match Bolt’s 19.19 world record.
Munyai knows he will have a target on his back.
“I think it’ll put on the pressure because now people from overseas … will be expecting that sort of times that side as well.
“I need to step up my game and hopefully Commonwealth Games I can repeat the same time.”
Munyai has proved mentally fragile in big races; he ended fourth in the 200m at the 2016 world junior championships after posting the quickest time in the semifinals.
Against Jobodwana recently he came unstuck over 200m, dying on the home straight after coming off the bend in the lead.
That got him to tinker with his strategy this time.
“I thought let me try go out really slow and try push from the 150m and see if it works and it did work because I was strong til I cross the line.”
Kriel — who had expected a 19.9 “if everything went well” — said he had been impressed with the way Munyai negotiated the bend in the morning heats.
“When he started with the warm-up [for the semifinal] I said ‘Clarence, you know what, I was just thinking about something, you are probably the fastest bend runner in the world … and he showed it again.
“I’ve never ever seen him in a race in the last three years not coming out of the bend first, even the Diamond League race.”
Munyai said he would need to emulate what he did on Friday in big races in future and not get overawed by the likes of Canadian Andre De Grasse and Yohan Blake of Jamaica.
“Going into those races I need to be focused and execute what I’ve been working on, not what they’re doing. I need to focus more on myself and not on other athletes.”
Kriel agreed. “He tends to be a bit of an up-and-down person … for him now to stay in that zone, that will be a challenge.”