The number one u/18 team in the world, but this is only the start
All eyes were on Wayde van Niekerk when he set a new world record of 43.03 seconds in the men’s 400m sprint to take the gold medal at the Rio Olympics in Brazil in 2016. A year later, this rubbed off on South Africa’s u/18 athletes who created their own history by becoming the first group to top the medal count at a global track and field showpiece.
South Africa finished with a total of 11 medals- five gold, three silver and three bronze. They outwitted powerhouses China, Cuba and the host nation Kenya to achieve this feat. It was also the first time SA did the sprint double at an international track and field competition where we saw Athletics Gauteng North’s (AGN) Tshenolo Lemao and Retshidisitswe Mlenga became 100m and 200m world champions respectively. One of their teammates at AGN, Sokwakhana Zazini was in a class of his own, stopping the clock at 49.27 seconds in 400m hurdles to become champion. The youngster dominated his final and won by more than a 40-meter gap.
We also saw Breyton Poole who may only be 1.73m tall but clears the bar like a boss. The youngster from Cape Town leaped to a season’s best of 2.24m to claim the gold medal in the boys’ high jump event. Breyton also started his 2017/2018 season with a bang when he jumped 2.25m at a Western Province Athletics open meet at Green Point stadium in November. This saw him equal countrymen Jacques Freitag’s African and SA youth record set in 1999. And who could forget about Zeney van der Walt who beat favourite Sanique Walker from Jamaica to win the gold medal in the 400m hurdles event. Zeney said words cannot describe how it feels to be a world champion. “At first, we did not know who won the gold medal, but when my name popped up first on big screen I knew my goal was achieved. My message to upcoming athletes is to remember there are going to be struggles but that it will only make them stronger,” she said.
These were just some of the athletes who has done well at the world youth championships in Kenya last year. Despite most of these athletes moving on to junior level we will see a new crop of youth athletes who will look to replicate their performances this season.
Western Province sprint duo of Jayson Weber and Luke Davids are among those athletes to watch out for. The two already got a taste of competing at international level when they represented the country at last year’s commonwealth youth games in the Bahamas. Although not walking away with a medal they took the experience back home and will look to qualify for this year’s world youth Olympics in Argentina.
Jayson, who won gold in the boys’ under-18 200m sprints at SA schools’ and bronze in the same event at the ASA youth and junior championships last year said the plan is to do well at this year’s national championships. “I can’t get ahead of myself but my goal is to be among the medallists in the 200m and 400m sprint events at the ASA youth and junior champs,” he said. One should also watch for AGN’s Sifiso Miya who was champion in the boys’ under-18 triple jump event also at the ASA youth championships in Cape Town last year. The youngster also finished second in the long jump event and is also an excellent sprinter which will make for an exciting national championship should he go up against the WP duo of Jayson and Luke.
AGN’s Jason Tito is something special, at just the age of 15, the youngster jumped 7.48m to clinch the gold medal in the boys’ under-16 long jump event at the inter-provincial championships at Pilditch stadium in Pretoria last year while his teammate Lindokuhle Gora finished third in boys’ under-18 400m hurdles race. He was also part of the South African squad that went to the commonwealth youth games but was disqualified in the heats of the 400m hurdles. Another prospect to look out for is Gontse Morake of Athletics Gauteng North (AGN). She was part of the 4x400m mixed relay team who won bronze at the world youth championships in Kenya last year. However, she was unable to make the finals of 400m hurdles after coming fourth in her heat.
These are some of the top youth athletes in the country that we should watch out for this season.
Written by Keagan Mitchell