Athletics Athletics

Semenya seals Olympics berth


PRETORIA, South Africa, April 21 – Former world champion Caster Semenya won an 800 metres race in one minute 59.58 seconds Friday to secure a place in the South African team for the Olympic Games.

Semenya is considered the best South African prospect for gold at the London Games and relished running on a University of Pretoria track where she was boosted by a fast start from Namibian Herunga Tjipekapora.

“I am very happy with the time and now I know what my plans for the European season are. I do not have to rush now, I must just be patient and wait for the Olympics.

“My ambition is to get to the podium in London — that is a very important thing to do — and to win gold. We will just have to wait and see,” she told reporters on a cool, clear autumn evening in the South African Highveld city.

It was third time lucky for the 21-year-old, who conquered the world in Berlin three years ago but was then forced to take gender tests amid accusations from rivals.

She failed to better the 1:59.90 qualifying mark during two previous attempts in South Africa this year, most recently at the national championships in wind-swept Port Elizabeth last weekend.

All South African Olympic hopefuls must match or better the qualifying mark twice — once at home and once abroad — before June 30 to be chosen for the London Games.

Semenya got her ‘abroad’ time in South Korean city Daegu last year when finishing second behind Russian Mariya Savinova in defence of the world title after a long spell being hampered by a lower back injury.

The former world champion changed coaches last year, replacing Michael Seme with ex-Olympic 800-metre gold medalist Maria Mutola from neighbouring Mozambique.

Other South African athletes who have booked places in London are 400-metre hurdlers LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks, women’s javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen and decathlete Willem Coertzen.

Long jumper Khotso Mokoena, whose silver was the only medal won by South Africa at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, ended months of misery by bettering the Games qualifying mark with a leap of 8.29 metres.

But his successful first attempt at the national meet was followed by two no-jumps and three abortive efforts, leaving him needing to better the Games distance again before June 30 to make the team.