Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

SA Athletics Champs: Five athletes to watch in the battle for titles

From sprinters and hurdlers to jumpers and throwers, SA's top athletes will be hoping to shine this week.

World-class sprinters Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk will take their places in the spotlight once again as South Africa’s elite track and field athletes converge on Msunduzi Stadium in Pietermaritzburg this week for the SA Senior Championships.

Other athletes, however, will be equally eager to showcase their ability against the nation’s best.

Aside from Simbine and Van Niekerk, who are the favourites in the men’s 100m and 200m events respectively, here are five athletes to watch at the four-day domestic showpiece starting on Thursday.

Viwe Jingqi (100m/200m)

After shattering national age group records in 2022, Jingqi had some injury troubles last season and struggled to shake off the effects of an appendix operation.

This year, she has returned with a bang, having already set a 200m personal best (22.96) and a national best over the unofficial 150m distance (16.93) in the early stages of the campaign.

If she hopes to win both short sprints this week, she’ll have to beat the likes of Tamzin Thomas, Kayla la Grange and Shirley Nekhubui, but the 19-year-old junior prospect will turn out as the favourite over both distances.

Viwe Jingqi
Junior sprinter Viwe Jingqi eases up after winning the 200m race at the ASA Athletix Grand Prix in Potchefstroom last month. Picture: Cecilia van Bers

Marione Fourie (100m hurdles)

We haven’t seen her in action yet on the domestic circuit this year, but if last season is any indication of what to expect, Fourie is going to light up the track.

In a breakthrough 2023 campaign, the 21-year-old sprint hurdler clocked 12.55 seconds to rip 0.21 off the SA record which was briefly held by local rival Taylon Bieldt.

Fourie dipped under 13 seconds on 10 occasions last season, and if she is even close to her best she will be difficult to beat. She will, however, have to hold off an expected challenge from Bieldt.

Adrian Wildschutt (5 000m)

One of the most exciting distance runners South Africa has ever produced, Wildschutt has proved he is the real deal.

Over the last nine months he has broken the national records in the 3 000, 5 000m and 10 000m events and has rocketed up the global rankings.

Returning home for a rare appearance on SA soil, from his base in the United States, 25-year-old Wildschutt will be the man to beat in the 5,000m final, though he might have to find top gear against a powerful line-up which includes Ryan Mphahlele, Maxime Chaumeton, Precious Mashele, Elroy Gelant, Jerry Motsau and Tsepho Tshite.

Adrian Wildschutt
Adrian Wildschutt during the men’s 5,000m heats at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene. Picture: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jovan van Vuuren (long jump)

Having recovered from a hamstring injury which derailed his 2023 season and threatened to end his top-flight career, Van Vuuren is in the form of his life.

In Pretoria last month, he set a personal best of 8.30m, booking his place in the SA team for the Olympic Games in Paris in August.

Though he will turn out as the favourite for gold, however, the 27-year-old athlete won’t have it all his own way as he lines up against the likes of former World Championships medallist Ruswahl Samaai, versatile speedster Cheswill Johnson and 19-year-old rising star Asande Mthembu.

Mine de Klerk (shot put/discus throw)

Another athlete returning home from her base in the US to compete at the national championships, consistent performer De Klerk will be confident of taking home two gold medals.

A two-time former world junior shot put champion, the 21-year-old athlete has already set personal bests this year in both her specialist throwing events.

Much like her compatriots listed above, however, she will need to be at her best, with the likes of experienced athlete Ischke Senekal, 18-year-old Ashley Erasmus and 17-year-old Alicia Khunou included in the entry lists for the shot put and discus throw disciplines.

Read more on these topics