Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
20 Jul 2022
1:31 pm

Back on track: Wayde and Caster have points to prove in Eugene

Wesley Botton

While Wayde van Niekerk is chasing a medal, Caster Semenya has already achieved a personal victory just by qualifying for the World Championships.

Wayde van Niekerk during his first-round heat at the World Athletics Championships. Picture: Getty Images

It remains unclear exactly what we can expect from either of them, but all eyes will be on Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya at the World Athletics Championships in the early hours of Thursday morning (SA time).

Competing on day six of the biennial showpiece in Eugene, both athletes are former world champions and both have entirely different points to prove.

Chasing a medal

Even when an athlete holds a world record, it can be difficult to retain confidence in their ability when they are repeatedly knocked back by injuries.

Van Niekerk, therefore, has become the darkest of horses in South Africa’s athletics stable, and though he’s the kind of runner you never really write off, we’ve spent the last five years wondering if we’ll ever see him gallop in full stride again.

That uncertainty was put to bed in the first-round heats in Eugene this week, however, with Van Niekerk floating around the track as he eased his way into the 400m semifinals (to be held at 4.15am on Thursday morning, SA time).

ALSO READ: ‘I want to taste gold again’: Van Niekerk targets podium return

Given two full days to recover between races, he should be ready to go again in the penultimate round, and if the two-time world champion can avoid any niggles, he looks to be in the kind of form required to chase a medal if he reaches the final.

Victory in participation

Semenya is hardly useless over the 5 000m distance, and considering her best event is run over two laps, her ability over 12-and-a-half laps is remarkable.

The reality, however, is that she’s up against the best 5 000m runners in the world (at 1.25am) and in comparison, her opponents are super quick.

ALSO READ: Semenya welcome at World Champs, says Coe, after changing her event

The three-time 800m world champion, sidelined from middle-distances without taking hormone suppressants, holds a 5 000m personal best of 15:31.50.

Of the 18 athletes in her first-round heat, however, 10 have run under 15 minutes, and only one (Venezuela’s Edymar Brea) has never run faster than the South African’s career best.

Semenya will have to run out of her socks just to make the final, but considering how far she has been stretched beyond the comforts of her range, her first-round appearance is a victory in itself.

Other athletes

In what promises to be the most action-packed session thus far for the SA team, multiple athletes will turn out on day six of the global showpiece.

Aside from Van Niekerk, Zakhiti Nene also turns out in the men’s 400m semifinals, while Zeney van der Walt enters the blocks in the women’s 400m hurdles semifinals (3.15am).

Jo-Ane van Dyk lines up in the women’s javelin throw qualifying round (1.50am) and Tshepo Tshite is in the men’s 800m heats (2.44am).