Storm clouds gather over SA athletics stars

Fresh talent poses serious threat and the fight for survival is on

02 September 2018 - 00:00 By DAVID ISAACSON

Another year, another pair of titles for Caster Semenya and Luvo Manyonga.
Semenya took her third straight 800m Diamond League crown and Manyonga his second consecutive long-jump mantle as they boosted their bank accounts to the tune of R1.5million each this year.
They each pocketed $50,000 for the overall titles they won in Zurich this week to add to the five $10,000 winner's cheques and smaller payouts they earned in the season.
Semenya and Manyonga have played an important role in SA punching above its weight the past couple of years; fifth on the athletics medal table at the 2016 Olympics and third at the 2017 world championships.
But storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, not just for them, but all of SA's stars, and most of the threats are blowing in from the Americas, in the form of fresh talent.
Manyonga has already been tripped up a few times by Juan Miguel Echevarría. The Cuban was just 19 when he downed Manyonga - unbeaten in all competition in 2017 - at the world indoor championships and in three outdoor competitions in June.
He called time on his season before his 20th birthday last month.
Manyonga has boasted that he is ultimately planning to break the 8.95m world record, but this year Echevarría has looked the more likely of the two to get there.
His two best jumps of 2018 were 8.68m and 8.66, both further than 27-year-old Manyonga has been to date, the 8.65 he jumped in Potchefstroom last year.
Consider this: from the age of 20 to now (8.19 to 8.65), Manyonga has improved 5.6%.
If Echevarría were to achieve the same growth, he will end up jumping in excess of 9.1m. As it is, he is within 3.23% of the world record.
Semenya's biggest threat comes from her sport's administrators, who plan to implement their new regulations for athletes with hyperandrogenism on November 1.
She is taking them on at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. While there is much confidence that she will win, it's still a triumph that must be achieved.
SA's next best athlete this season has been sprinter Akani Simbine. He took the Commonwealth Games and African 100m crowns, but he hasn't won a race in Europe and the US this season.
Fifth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and fifth once more at the 2017 world championships in London, Simbine ended fifth again in the Diamond League 100m final in Brussels on Friday night.
His competition includes the American trio of Christian Coleman, Ronnie Baker and Noah Lyles, and they've all been faster than his own 9.89sec SA record.
Olympic and two-time world 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk, out with a knee injury since last year, tweeted this week that he was running without pain for the first time. But he faces a torrid comeback.
In the 200m, he will have to speed up significantly if he wants to beat Lyles.
And a new challenger is rising in Van Niekerk's premier 400m event.
The world lead for 2018 is the 43.61 by 20-year-old US collegiate king Michael Norman, and that's one-hundredth of a second quicker than Van Niekerk's 43.62 best from 2017.
It's also the world's third-best time - after Van Niekerk's 43.03 world record from 2016 and 43.48 the year before - since 2007.
The fight for survival is on...

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