Archive | November, 2014

Botswana – Africa’s rising force in the Sprints and Middle Distances

14 Nov

In times past, countries from the southern part of the African continent were not regarded as good producers of the world’s best runners, but recently, Botswana, which was once considered a minnow in Africa and the world athletics stage, is proving that innate talent can be found in any part of the world irrespective of the geographical location.

Take for instance the emergence of Nijel Amos who came into global recognition after winning the Bronze medal at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games which was held at the Isle of Man. A breakout 2012 season as an 18yr old saw him become champion at the 2012 World Junior Athletics Championships in Spain, finishing in a new Championship Record (CR) of 1:43.79s.

Few months later at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Amos won a Silver medal, which turned out to be Botswana’s FIRST EVER Olympic medal! His time of 1:41.73s established a new World Junior Record behind the new World Record (WR) set by Kenya’s David Rudisha and is tied as the third fastest individual ever. This historic achievement has given more recognition to Botswana’s athletics.

Nijel Amos celebrates his historic win over David Rudisha at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. (Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe)

Nijel Amos celebrates his historic win over David Rudisha at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe)

An outstanding 2014 season saw him continue his rivalry with Rudisha. He set a World Lead of 1:42.45s at the Herculis Diamond League meeting, before winning the Commonwealth Games GOLD medal in 1:45.18s, taking the shine from the Kenyan in both races, thereby becoming the only athlete to have defeated the former world champion on several occasions.

He became the African champion in Morocco, then capped off his outstanding season with yet another GOLD medal at the IAAF Continental Cup, leading an African 1-2 to give the host continent maximum points. This means he has made it 3/3 wins in major competitions this year, with a consummate win against top-class athletes. His efforts earned him a a nomination for the IAAF Athlete of the Year.

Nijel Amos inspired a 1-2 finish for Africa at the IAAF Continental Cup. (Photo Credit: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images Europe)

Nijel Amos inspired a 1-2 finish for Africa at the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakech.
(Photo Credit: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images Europe)

Nijel Amos celebrates winning the Commonwealth Games gold in the Men's 800m. (Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe)

Nijel Amos celebrates winning the Commonwealth Games gold in the Men’s 800m.
(Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe)

Amos hasn’t been the only standout athlete for Botswana this season; Isaac Makwala after years of consistent medal winnings for his country continentally, made sure Botswana had their best outing at the 2014 African Athletics Championship in Morocco.

Makwala approached the championships as favourite to defend his crown after setting an African Record (AR) of 44.01s (the third fastest time in 2014) in the 400m at the 35th Resisprint International Athletics Meeting earlier in the year. He went on to post a scorching NR of 19.96s in superlative style less than two hours later.

Makwala competing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. (Photo Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images Europe)

Makwala competing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
(Photo Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images Europe)

Nigeria with her abundance of talent is yet to produce a sub 20s runner since Francis Obikwelu did it at the 1999 World Championships in Spain. The closest in recent times was Divine Oduduru’s wind-assisted run of 20.25s at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships in Oregon.

It was not surprising that he successfully defended his title in spite of the threat posed by South African record holder and Commonwealth Games silver medallist, Wayde Van Niekerk, smashing the CR in the process with a winning time of 44.23s, before taking silver in the 200m behind surprise winner Cote d’Ivoire’s Hua Wilfried Koffi in 20.51s.

It should be noted that the last time a Nigerian won the African 400m title was Christian Chukwu’s feat in 1996, while Athens 2004 Bronze medallist, Godday James became the last Nigerian to run under 45s, performing the feat first in 2006 in 44.99s, and then lowering his time to a brilliant 44.90s two years later at the Abuja Grand Prix.

Isaac Makwala finished second behind Cote d'Ivoire's Hua Wilfied Koffi in the 200m in Marakech.

Isaac Makwala finished second behind Cote d’Ivoire’s Hua Wilfied Koffi in the 200m in Marakech.

Not done with winning titles, Makwala anchored his country’s 4x400m team which comprised of Amos, Pako Seribe and Leaname Maotoanong to its first ever continental GOLD in the relay with a NR of 3.01.89s, dethroning Nigeria in the process as the quartet comprising of Amaechi Morton, Miles Ukaoma, Noah Akwu and Robert Simmons followed in second place with 3.03.09s. He ended the championship as the only individual with three medals (2 GOLD, 1 silver).

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 At the IAAF Continental Cup which followed a month later, Makwala won Silver for Team Africa behind Diamond League winner, Lashawn Merritt in 44.84s. He then capped of his season with a spectacular run in the 4x400m as his second leg run turned out to be the defining moment of the race, taking over the lead from the Americas while teammates Saviour Kombe and Van Niekerk consolidated on his performance to give Africa a befitting GOLD medal with a PB of 3:00.02s.

Makwala's magnificient display in the 4x400m relay at the IAAF Continental Cup earned Africa a gold medal. (Photo Credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images Europe)

Makwala’s magnificient display in the 4x400m relay at the IAAF Continental Cup earned Africa a gold medal (Photo Credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images Europe)

Makwala’s country man Kabelo Kgosiemang (high jump) has been the most consistent athlete in the history of the African Championships. He successfully defended his title in Marrakech and therefore made history by becoming the first athlete in the history of the championship to win six titles in succession.

Kgosiemang and Makwala, both hold the African Championship Records in their various individual events, set within the last six years, while Nigeria with her abundance of talents and prominence in African athletics hasn’t produced any individual male championship record holder since Seun Ogunkoya ran 9.94s in the 100m in Dakar 1998.

Kabelo Kgosiemang has won the men's high jump event a record six times.  (Photo Credit: www.vebidoo.de)

Kabelo Kgosiemang has won the men’s high jump a record six times.
(Photo Credit: http://www.vebidoo.de)

Kabelo Kgosiemang competing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. (Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

Kabelo Kgosiemang competing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
(Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

Sadly, trailblazer and prominent 400m sprinter, Amantle Montsho who has won countless medals both continentally and internationally was banned by the IAAF for failing a drug test after her 4th place finish at the Commonwealth Games, thereby putting a sour taste to a seemingly outstanding 2014 season in Botswana’s athletics.

Montsho is a three-time back to back African champion, 2010 Commonwealth Games and IAAF Continental Cup winner (making her Botswana’s first GOLD medalist of the games), former world champion winning, in a Personal Best (PB) and NR of 49.56s in Daegu, South Korea, thereby becoming Botswana’s first ever world champion (a feat that has not been attained by any Nigerian sprinter till date).

Amantle Monsho and Issac Makwala grabbed a double for Botswana in the 400m at the 2012 African Championships in Benin. (Photo Credit: www.athleticsafrica.com)

Amantle Monsho and Makwala grabbed a double for Botswana in the 400m at the 2012 African Championships.
(Photo Credit: http://www.athleticsafrica.com)

Amantle Montsho celebrates her 2011 All-African Games triumph in Maputo. (Photo Credit: www.bsnc.co.bw)

Amantle Montsho celebrates her 2011 All-African Games triumph in Maputo.
(Photo Credit: http://www.bsnc.co.bw)

The dominance of Botswana in middle distant races is bound to continue considering that they already have upcoming youth athletes in Thebo Baboloki (African youth 200m champion) and Karabo Sibanda, a silver medallist in the 400m at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, who are already running as fast as our national champions.

Botswana’s progress in the sprints and middle distance races is a certification that their athletes could well be a force to reckon with on the global stage for years to come!

(Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

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(Photo Credit: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

South Africa – the powerhouse of African Athletics

6 Nov

The breakthrough performances of many South African athletes in 2014 has confirmed the country’s status as the reigning powerhouse of athletics on the continent.

There is no denying that South Africa’s dominance in African athletics, took a sharp nosedive since their triumph at the 2008 African Championships in Addis Ababa, which completed a hat-trick of consecutive titles won at the continental championship in the past decade.

Since then, the country has witnessed two back to back third place finishes, relinquishing the top spot first to Kenya in 2010 and then Nigeria in 2012, statistically indicating a loss of form of their athletes by over fifty percent in the past four years.

Simon Magakwe's blistering NR of 9.98s earned him the continent's top spot in 2014.  (Photo Credit: http://www.athleticsnews.co.za).

Simon Magakwe’s blistering NR of 9.98s was the fastest time posted by an African in 2014.
(Photo Credit: http://www.athleticsnews.co.za)

However there was a reversal of fortunes in 2014 with an outstanding season which started off at the South African Championships in April, where a new National Record (NR) of 9.98s was set by Simon Magakwe in the 100m. Other highlights included Cornel Fredericks dethroning record holder L.J. Van Zyl in the 400m hurdles, before relatively unknown Wayde Van Niekerk (men’s 400m), Wenda Theron Nel (women’s 400m hurdles) and Rikenette Steenkamp (women’s 100m hurdles) each won their events.

Two months later, at the Diamond League meeting in New York, Niekerk sensationally broke the 15 year old NR, posting a time of 44.38s, thereby, announcing himself globally as a potential Commonwealth Games and African medalist in his event.

Silver medallist Wayde van Niekerk, gold medallist Kirani James and bronze medallist Lalonde Gordon pose with their medals. (Photo Credit: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images Europe)

Wayde van Niekerk (L), won silver behind Kirani James in Glasgow.
(Photo Credit: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images Europe)

The athletes took this form to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where six of them won medals. Khotso Mokoena dethroned Nigeria’s Tosin Oke to win the men’s triple jump while Zarck Visser and Rushwahl Samaai took silver and bronze respectively in the long jump. Fredericks also struck gold in the 400m hurdles while Niekerk and two time Commonwealth Games champion, Sunette Viljoen (javelin) settled for silver.

Unsurprisingly, all six athletes got to the podium at the African Championships which followed a week later in Marrakech, Morocco. Mokoena denied defending champion, Oke a third consecutive title, making him the first South African to win the event, while Fredericks was unstoppable as he dethroned Nigeria’s Amaechi Morton in the hurdles.

Mokoena won gold ahead of Nigeria's Tosin Oke.

Khotso Mokoena twice won gold ahead of Nigeria’s Tosin Oke in the men’s triple jump.

Cornel Fredericks who has been in fantastic form this season scooped the African and Commonwealth Games titles.

Cornel Fredericks who has been in fantastic form this season, scooped the African, Commonwealth and IAAF Continental Cup titles in the 400m hurdles.

Viljoen continued her unbeaten streak by throwing a Season’s Best (SB) and new Championship Record (CR) of 65.32m to win her fourth African title. She now has more Javelin GOLD medals from the African Championship than any other athlete, male or female, in the 35 year old history of the event.

In the women’s 400m hurdles, Theron Nel beat her Nigerian counterpart, Amaka Ogoegbunam to the title in 55.32s. The hurdler has come a long way from her fifth place finish in Port Novo two years ago (57.06s) after running a PB of 54.82s this season, making her the 13th fastest in the world this year and faster than any other Nigerian athlete since 2012, when Ajoke Odumosu clocked a PB of 54.40s in the semi-finals at the London Olympics.

Sunette Viljoen capped the 2014 season with a Silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and fourth African title in Marrakech. (Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Sunette Viljoen capped the 2014 season with a Silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and fourth African title in Marrakech.
(Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images AsiaPac)

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Wenda Theron Nel overcame Nigeria’s Amaka Ogoegbunam to win her first African title in the women’s 400m hurdles.

It was a similar story in the women’s 100m hurdles as Steenkamp scooped the country’s first gold medal in the history of the championships.
The South Africans dominated the field events and virtually had representatives to compete with Nigerian athletes in almost every final, comparable to the stiff competition and rivalry that exists between the Jamaicans and Americans at major events.

Although, the country couldn’t win any medal in the sprints after coming to the championships with six of the continent’s Top 10 fastest male athletes in 2014, it doesn’t take away the fact that they have Africa’s fastest man this season (Magakwe with his 9.98s).

Rikenette Steenkamp was not left out in the gold rush as she added the African title to her national crown in the 100m hurdles.

Rikenette Steenkamp was not left out in the gold rush as she added the African title to her national crown in the 100m hurdles.

This is a commendable feat, seeing that no Nigerian athlete has been able to go under the 10s mark since Olusoji Fasuba in 2006, when he set the current African Record of 9.85s, making him No.1 on the list of Africa’s top sprinters.

Also, they recorded a non-podium finish in the 200m, a race which they conveniently won in 2008 (Thuso Mpuang and Isabel Le Roux, both posting PBs of 20.53s and 22.69s respectively), while Nigeria has not won the race since Uchenna Emedolu stormed to the title in 2006.

Athletics South Africa (ASA) President Aleck Sichosana threw down the gauntlet with these words, after his country reclaimed the continent’s No.1 ranking at the conclusion of the Championships:
“Our athletes’ performances in Marrakech have redefined South Africa as the powerhouse of athletics in the continent”.

South Africa dominated most of the field events at the African Championships in Marrakech and emerged overall winners of the competition. (Photo Credit: AthleticsAfrica)

South Africa emerged overall winners at the African Championships in Marrakech.
(Photo Credit: AthleticsAfrica)

South Africa’s rising profile should serve as a challenge to Nigeria, who once occupied the enviable position as the continent’s best as far as Track and Field is concerned, but is now gradually losing its position, going by the threats being posed not just by South Africa in the short/middle distant races, but other African nations such as Cote d’Ivoire and Botswana.

The success of South African athletes in 2014 projects how much more they can achieve in years to come with most of their athletes just nearing the peak of their careers. The athletes are definitely going to be a force to watch out for, not only in Africa, but world athletics at large.

(Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe)

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(Photo Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: http://www.sport24.co.za)

(Photo Credit: http://www.sport24.co.za)

(Photo Credit: http://spikes.iaaf.org)

(Photo Credit: http://spikes.iaaf.org)

(Photo Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images Europe)

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