SA 800m record holder ready for Barcelona
The South African 800m youth record holder, Monique Stander, is one of a handful of youth athletes included in the junior team to represent South Africa in Barcelona, Spain at the World Junior Championships taking place from 10-15 July.
The Central Gauteng Championships in Germiston on 18 March, is where it all started for the 17 year-old. She won the women’s 800m in her age category in 2:07.23. The Yellow Pages SA Junior youth and schools championships on 1 April in Germiston saw her improving her time to 2:06.21 - a time fast enough to earn her the youth national title ahead of Marise Malherbe. Malherbe clocked 2:10.57. Not even the junior women’s race clocked a faster time. The winner crossed the line in 2:09.28.
But, it was Yellow Pages III in Pretoria on 20 April where Stander finished second and clocked a brand new personal best of 2:02.57, also a new SA 800m youth record. Caster Semenya won the race. “I did not know I had broken a national record as I did not know what the record was,” said the 17 year-old. Her coach missed the meeting due to injury and phoned her after he was informed about her time. “It was an incredible feeling at the time, but only sunk in a few days later.”
Another victory came at the Southern Region Junior Championships in Windhoek, Namibia where she beat SA Junior Champion Thato Makhafola in 2:05.34. Makhafola crossed the line in 2:07.84.
Stander will now travel with the team to Barcelona to compete in her first major championship. Only three athletes in the world have run faster times. One of them is Francine Niyonsaba (BDI) with a best of 1:59.11 set up in Porto Novo at the Africa Senior Championships in Benin on 1 July. Ukraine’s Anastasiya Tkachuk clocked 2:00.78 in Yalta on 28 May while Jessica Judd from Great Britain, also a youth athlete, ran 2:01.09 in June. But for Stander “being on any world ranking list is still such an unreal feeling.”
Makhafola will join Stander in the women’s 800m and has some experience at this level, having competed at the World Youth Championships in Lille, France in 2011. Makhafola ran her personal best in the 800m in Port Elizabeth at the Yellow Pages SA Senior Championships, clocking 2:05.78.
Stander looks up to Mapaseka Makhanya, 800m athlete, as well as the SA 1500m Champion, the same events that Stander competed in. “She (Makhanya) continuously encourages and motivates other athletes. She always has time to speak to you,” says Stander.
The athlete from Central Gauteng will focus on running a personal best in Barcelona. “My coach, JJ Smith, and my dad have consistently worked on my endurance and speed to make sure I am 100% ready for the 800m. The experience gained, no matter what the outcome will be, is invaluable. Most of all, I want to be a worthy representative of my country and make South Africa proud.”