The team that represented South Africa at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London between 4 and 13 August made history when they bagged 6 medals, the highest tally by a South African world champs team to date. And a 3rd-place on the medal table makes South Africa an athletics powerhouse, but what does the future hold for the sport in SA?

Wayde van Niekerk (400m gold/200m silver), Caster Semenya (800m gold/1500m bronze), Ruswahl Samaai (Long Jump bronze) and Luvo Manyonga (Long Jump gold) secured all six medals for South Africa in London where drama was the theme of the championships.

The drama kicked off when, all of a sudden, the top 9 jumpers in the men’s long jump final could jump over 8.10m, undoubtedly one of the best international long jump competitions this decade. But guess what? Our champions were ranked number 1 and 2 in the world heading into the competition, so confidence wasn’t an issue. They prevailed and got on the podium, but the exciting American Jarrion Lawson intervened and squeezed himself into second place! Manyonga’s (8.48m) got the gold and Samaai’s (8.32) the bronze. But while the guys enjoyed glory, teammate Akani Simbine got off to a sluggish start in the 100m but at the end finished a credible 5th in the final. Meanwhile, Semenya enjoyed her first international outing in the 1500m and to be honest, her bronze medal performance was only the start. But hats must be taken off for the University of Northwest student who came back with a bang to win the women’s 800m in 1.55.16, a new South African record. On the other hand, Wayde van Niekerk took on 6 days of none-stop top flight sprinting and secured gold in the 400m and silver in the 200m, missing out on a second gold by the narrowest of margins: 0.002sec. Whilst the 400m world champion missed out on a second gold,  race walker Lebogang Shange missed out on a bronze medal by 14 seconds. Probably the biggest surprise for team SA.

But the question is: what happens 5-10 years from now? Does SA athletics have the depth? Because thanks to only four athletes, the nation got six medals. USA, in retrospect, bagged 30 medals whilst Kenya took home 11 ahead of SA. A great rise to the top, but is the next middle distance female star being groomed or will we see more 400m/ 200m male stars coming through? “There’s never a lift to success, it’s small stepping stones and to give athletes an opportunity to compete internationally is a stepping stone” mentioned Coach Willie Engelbrecht. And he has a valid point, because once an athlete is exposed to such competitions, the motivation is sky high and the athlete will work even harder to be included in any future championship teams. And truth of the matter is that we never know who could possibly be ‘the next big thing’, all we know is that athletes given the opportunity to experience competition among the best athletes in the world have a better chance to reach their full potential. But looking ahead, the best is yet to come because with the young SA athletes stealing the show as overall winners at the u/18 World championships in Kenya and taking 2nd at the African u/20 spectacle on medal standings, means that the nation’s athletics is at its best ever.

The Commonwealth Games are less than 8 months away, perhaps the biggest possible SA team will make more history there…

Written by Reggie Hufkie