Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Rising track stars ready to take over from Simbine, Van Niekerk

Youngsters like Benji Richardson, Viwe Jingqi and Tumi Ramokgopa were among the standout performers at the recent national championships.

Their careers are not over, and they could both still deliver at this year’s Olympic Games, but Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk are in their 30s, and it’s really good to see the next generation stepping up.

The most promising thing we witnessed at the national athletics championships over the last four days was the young sprinters who stepped on the podium.

Benji Richardson beat Van Niekerk to win the SA 200m title in an Olympic qualifying time (20.16 seconds), while teenagers Bayanda Walaza and Bradley Nkoana finished second and third behind Simbine in the 100m final.

In the 400m sprint, 21-year-old Lythe Pillay won gold in 44.31, qualifying for the Olympics and climbing to second place behind Van Niekerk in the all-time national rankings.

Equally impressive was 19-year-old Viwe Jingqi, who won the national women’s 100m title. And in the 400m hurdles, 16-year-old prospect Tumi Ramokgopa picked up a bronze medal.

Viwe Jingqi
Viwe Jingqi is one of this country’s rising stars. Picture: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix

World U-20 Championships

Richardson is 20 years old, while Walaza, Nkoana and Jingqi are still so young they will be competing at the World U-20 Championships in Peru later this year.

Ramokgopa, who is an incredible talent, is only 16 and she still has two editions of the global junior championships ahead of her.

Richardson gave credit to both Simbine and Van Niekerk after his victory on Saturday, but he also acknowledged that his generation needed to start taking the reins.

“The greats are still with us — Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk — but the rest of us are youngsters. It just shows there’s a new beginning and there are new people coming in,” Richardson said.

“We love the people who inspired us but now it’s time for us to try and inspire other people to get into the sport.”

We do hope, of course, that Simbine and Van Niekerk — the last remaining top-flight stars of a golden generation — can still add to their impressive achievements.

But they can’t run forever and it is crucial that younger athletes are inspired enough by them to maintain a similar standard.

Based on what we saw in Maritzburg last week, they are well on track.