Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
24 Dec 2017
9:00 am

2017 in review: SA athletics leaps and sprints to new heights

Wesley Botton

The athletes were simply awesome this year ... but the administrators were up to their own tricks again too.

National hero: Luvo Manyonga. Photo: Antonin Thuillier/AFP.

In another memorable year for South African athletics, the country’s elite track and field stars again delivered across the board.

World bests were set by Wayde van Niekerk in the 300m sprint (30.81) and Caster Semenya over 600m (1:21.77), while seven national senior outdoor records were broken or equalled throughout the season.

The SA senior team finished third in the table with six medals at the World Championships in London in August, and the national youth squad secured top spot in the standings at the World U-18 Championships in Nairobi in July, earning a record 11 medals to showcase the improved depth at all levels.

Highlight of the year

During a season which included a remarkable four leaps over 8.60 metres, long jump world champion Luvo Manyonga produced his best form on home soil. Competing in front of a capacity crowd at the national championships in Potchefstroom in April, Manyonga launched himself within a ruler’s length of the world record, landing at 8.65m to set a new African mark and win a hard-fought contest against Ruswahl Samaai.

Disappointment of the year

Despite failing to reach the 64-metre mark for the first season in 10 years, experienced javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen had been expected to put up a fight for her third career medal at the World Championships. Preparing to compete at the biennial showpiece for the sixth time, the Olympic silver medallist announced her withdrawal the week before the London spectacle after she was unable to shake off a back injury.

Controversy of the year

While administrators were praised for stabilising the federation and turning over a crippling financial situation, Athletics SA could not escape the media’s blade this year. Leaving numerous qualifiers at home and taking a handful of non-qualifiers with to the World Championships, the organisation’s selectors were widely criticised for their bizarre decisions. Even more frustrating for the athletes who were left behind was ASA’s refusal to own up to the glaring holes in their explanations.

Star of the year

This is a really tough decision, as Manyonga and Semenya were both phenomenal this season. Van Niekerk, however, set a 300m world best, earned 400m gold and 200m silver at the World Championships, set a national record of 19.84 in the half-lap sprint and clocked a personal best of 9.94 over the 100m distance. He did not get the nod at the SA Sports Awards or the IAAF Awards, but he gets it from us.

Funniest moment

Though track and field athletes stole the show in 2017, an American ultra-distance runner had the media in stitches after the country’s most popular road race. Having misjudged the finish line before winning the Comrades Marathon in June, Camille Herron revealed that a couple of beers were among the standard refreshments she enjoyed during a race. At the post-race press conference, the room erupted when her husband placed a bottle of her favourite local ale on the table.

For more sport your way, follow The Citizen on Facebook and Twitter.