Aiming for the stars: Wayde looks to pick up a hat-trick of awards

12 November 2017 - 00:00 By DAVID ISAACSON

Wayde van Niekerk won this award last year after taking the Olympic 400m gold by breaking Michael Johnson's world record.
You'd think that would be difficult to top this year, but no, not for Van Niekerk.
This year he broke Johnson's world best in the 300m in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and in the process he also beat Usain Bolt's meet record.
Then he went to the world championships and defended his 400m crown before adding the 200m silver medal to his mantle. This season Van Niekerk has also broken the South African 200m record, lowering it to 19.84sec and improved his 100m personal best to 9.94.
His efforts have ensured he's the only South African among the six finalists - three men and three women - for the IAAF's athlete of the year awards.
Van Niekerk has cleaned up at the South African Sports Awards in the past two years, and he could be tough to beat again tonight at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park.
If he does make it a hat-trick tonight, the only consolation his rivals might have is that he's unlikely to make it four in a row next year because of the knee injury he picked up while playing a celebrity game of tag rugby.
That will keep him off the track for at least six months, meaning Van Niekerk will miss the Commonwealth Games, where he had planned to go for a 100m-200m double.
But that's next year. Who can derail the juggernaut today?
Caster Semenya
If there's anyone who can shade Van Niekerk, it is Semenya. There is little separating them in achievements this year.
Both won two medals each at the IAAF World Championships in London and each broke a world best.
Semenya announced quite late in the day that she would add the 1500m to the 800m, and few people gave her a chance to shine in the mile, insisting she was too heavy.
But as she's done for much of her career, Semenya defied her critics and with a powerful late surge she snatched the bronze medal from home favourite Laura Muir by seven-hundredths of a second.
Then she went into the 800m and dominated to take gold - eight years after she won her first world championship as a teen in 2009.
Semenya extended her two-year unbeaten stretch in the two-lap race to two years when she finished off the season by picking up the 800m Diamond League crown in Zurich, Switzerland. Three days later she broke the 600m world best in Berlin, Germany, clocking 1min 21.77sec.
She also twice lowered her own 800m national record this past season, first to 1:55.27 and then to 1:55.16.
Will the Diamond League title be enough to give her the edge over Van Niekerk? Or will her 1500m bronze be deemed lower than Van Niekerk's silver?
Luvo Manyonga
Manyonga might not have bagged the multiple world championship medals and world records of Van Niekerk and Semenya, but his story is unique.
Those two went into the world championships as Olympic champs, but Manyonga was the silver medallist from the 2016 Rio Games still looking to conquer the world.
Manyonga didn't merely take gold at the world championships, but dominated the long jump the entire year, from his first outing in Bloemfontein.
He went 8.46m in his season opener in early March and barely a week later broke Khotso Mokoena's long-standing South African record when he leaped to 8.62m.
In an amazing run, he improved that to 8.65m at the national championships in Potchefstroom in April, placing him 11th on the all-time list. He went 8.61m in Shanghai, China, in May and 8.62m in Hengelo, the Netherlands, in June.
Nobody has jumped that far this decade.
By the end of the season, Manyonga had produced eight of the nine best jumps in the world, the only other person getting a look-in being countryman Ruswahl Samaai.
But it hasn't been easy for the one-time tik addict who in April issued a statement confirming he was still staying in a rehabilitation facility in Pretoria even though he had been clean since joining it the previous year.
The battle against his demons, Manyonga admitted, took place on a daily basis.
isaacsond@sundaytimes.co.za

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