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Athletics | SA Track & Field

Caster Semenya © Gallo Images

Caster gracious after reaching milestone

Caster Semenya was delighted after she became the first woman in 21 years to break the two-minute barrier in the 800m on South African soil on Friday night.

Semenya clocked one minute, 59.58 seconds (1:59.58) to win the women's two-lap race at the Yellow Pages Series meeting in Pretoria.

"I feel very special to run it after 21 years," Semenya said.

"I know in 2009 I was nearly there, but I was just a little kid.

"But now I have more experience and with God anything is possible.

"I just have to pray to keep me going like this."

The 21-year-old got off to a fast start, tucking in behind pacemaker Tjipekapora Herunga of Namibia over the first 450m.

Semenya opened a gap on the rest of the field with 200m to go and dipped under the Olympic qualifying standard of 1:59.90 to book her place in the SA team for the London Games.

"It was ok because I know if you run your own race you always do best," she said.

"I think the most important thing is to run your own race.

"We've been training hard to qualify here in South Africa.

"We did it today and we are just looking forward to the future." Semenya's coach, three-time world champion Maria Mutola, said Semenya needed a pacesetter to dip below the two-minute mark after two failed attempts earlier in the domestic season.

"No-one was taking charge and to break two minutes by yourself is almost impossible," said Mutola.

"That is why we went with this strategy in this meeting, to have someone help us at least in the first 400m to 500m."

Semenya was confident she would run faster before the Olympic Games.

"It shows that I can improve more and more and hopefully in Europe we can go below 1:59 – 1:56, maybe 1:57," she said.

"As an athlete you need to last. One race means nothing."

Monique Stander, who finished second behind Semenya, also set a milestone in the race, breaking the 25-year-old national 800m youth (under-17) record.

Stander, 16, finished in 2:02.57, improving the previous mark of 2:02.71 set by Corne Steenkamp in Bloemfontein in 1987.

Meanwhile, Olympic long jump silver medallist Khotso Mokoena reached the qualifying distance for the London Games for the first time with a winning jump of 8.29 metres.

Mokoena, who had struggled earlier in the season and relinquished the national title in Port Elizabeth last week, must go beyond the 8.20m standard once more to earn a place in South Africa's Olympic team.

"We weren't in a hurry, and we didn't sharpen up for the SA champs," said Mokoena's coach, Hansie Coetzee.

Coetzee, who said Mokoena hoped to be at his best form closer to the Games, said his charge was in better condition than when he recorded his personal best of 8.50m in 2009, but he had yet to sharpen up this season.

"His strength, explosiveness and speed is 10 times better than it was when he jumped 8.50m," he said.

Mokoena, the country's only medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he was taking his progress in his stride and would stay focussed and calm ahead of the London Games.

"It takes a lot of hard work to get to the top," he said, "and that is what we are doing right now."


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