Wayde van Niekerk and co win Olympic 4x400m spot at World Relays

05 May 2024 - 05:10
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Wayde van Niekerk at the world championships in Budapest last year.
Wayde van Niekerk at the world championships in Budapest last year.
Image: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Wayde van Niekerk and his star-studded South African 4x400m team booked their ticket to the Paris Olympics when they ended second in their heat at the World Relays in Bahamas on Saturday (Sunday morning SA time).

Gardeo Isaacs, Zakithi Nene and Lythe Pillay combined well with the 400m world record-holder as they crossed the line in 2 min 59.76 sec, losing out to Botswana in a sprint finish.

Those were the only two teams to dip under three minutes in the heats and will start the final on Sunday as favourites after the US, the reigning Olympic and world champions, were disqualified.

Nene, who ran the second leg, put South Africa into the lead as he handed over sharply to Van Niekerk who looked good keeping Leungo Scotch at bay on the third leg.

Pillay battled Bayapo Ndori over the final lap, but he just couldn’t hold him off over the final metres of the home straight, being beaten by three-hundredths of a second.

Botswana sprint star Letsile Tebogo and Ndori were the only runners on the day to dip under 44 seconds, but Van Niekerk’s 44.23 was the third-fastest leg overall.

The top two teams in each of the heats across all five relays on Saturday — men’s and women’s 4x100m, men’s and women’s 4x400m and the mixed 4x400m — qualified for the Games, with another six berths to be decided on Sunday.

The South African men’s 4x100m and mixed 4x400m outfits will try win their Games tickets on Sunday.

The men’s 4x100m outfit has been touted as an Olympic medal hope, but their performance on Saturday showed they were still a far way off, ending third in their heat and 14th overall.

The good news is that they should qualify for Paris — if not on Sunday, then at least as one of the two-fastest time qualifiers in the 18-months-long qualifying window that ends on June 30.

But the bad news is that they hardly looked like world beaters.

Of the world’s eight-fastest 4x100m teams, South Africa was the only one that failed to book an Olympic lane on Saturday.

World champions US, Olympic champions Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Canada, Britain and France all followed the form book, but not Mzansi.

Schoolboy Bayanda Walaza, new national 200m champion Benjamin Richardson, national 200m record-holder Clarence Munyai and 100m ace Akani Simbine crossed the line in 38.83.

And the weakest link was Munyai, who didn’t compete at the national championships in Pietermaritzburg two weeks ago.

His effort was timed at a pedestrian 10.03 sec — the second-slowest third leg of the 29 teams that got the baton around the park.

South Africa was lying third when Munyai received the baton and had slipped to sixth by the time he had handed it over to Simbine.

Teenager Walaza did his job well at the start, and Richardson was OK, though he’ll be looking to improve his performance down the back straight by a good few splits. 

“Ol’ faithful” Simbine, who has anchored this team with his reliable supercharged turbo for 10 years now, delivered the second-fastest fourth leg of the night, second only to American superstar Noah Lyles, at 9.01 to 8.95. 

Simbine overhauled two of his rivals on the home straight, but the two front-runners were too far ahead, with Japan winning in 38.10 and China second in 38.25.

The only sprinter missing from the South African line-up was US-based Shaun Maswanganyi, who is finishing off his studies in Houston.

The mixed 4x400m team of Mthi Mthimkulu, Shirley Nekhubui, Antonie Nortje and Zeney Geldenhuys ended third in their heat in 3:15.95, 15th fastest overall.

They’ll need to find one more gear to secure their Olympic spot on Sunday.

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