Van der Walt shines, but SA settle for second place at African Champs

Zeney van der Walt led the charge on Sunday, securing two gold medals on the fifth and final day of the African Athletics Championships, but the South African team had to settle for the runner-up spot behind Kenya at the continental track and field showpiece in Mauritius.

Van der Walt stormed to victory in the women’s 400m hurdles final, clocking 56.00 seconds in wet and windy conditions, and she went on to lead the national 4x400m relay team to gold in 3:29.34.

“It’s my first senior African Championships and I’m very happy to take home two gold medals,” said Van der Walt, a former world junior champion.

“This gives me a lot of confidence because it’s a stepping stone going forward and I’m really excited.”

Fellow hurdler Soks Zazini also won gold in the men’s one-lap final, clocking 49.42, on the last day of action at the biennial spectacle, which was held for the first time in four years due to Covid restrictions.

Earlier in the week, discus thrower Werner Visser (61.80m), 400m sprinter Miranda Coetzee (51.82), pole vaulter Mire Reinstorf (3.80m), javelin thrower Jo-Ane van Dyk (60.65m), hammer thrower Allan Cumming (69.13m) and shot putter Ischke Senekal (16.40m) also earned gold medals.

While they secured a total of 36 podium places (nine gold, 13 silver and 14 bronze) the SA team narrowly missed out on reclaiming their dominance of African athletics, with the Kenyan team finishing top of the final standings with 10 gold.

It was the most medals achieved by the SA team at the African Championships since 1993.

“We had some very close results, and though we didn’t finish top of the final medals table, we are proud of our team for bringing home so many medals,” said Athletics South Africa president James Moloi.

“We also had a lot of junior athletes in the squad and it bodes well for the future.”