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Athletics | International

Caster Semenya © Gallo Images

Athletics: A year in review

Following on from last year’s Olympic Games, 2017 proved to be another big year for athletics as the World Championships were held in London.

Some athletes were tapering off after the Games in Rio and the likes of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah planned their track farewells for London. Bolt planned to hang up his boots for good while Farah planned to transition to the marathon.

Memories of the 2012 Olympic Games which had Bolt and Farah as the stars of the show remained and the championships were hyped up as the final hurrah. It was not to be, though…

The championships turned out to be a weird and disappointing affair for the sport as a whole, but out of that darkness Kenya and South Africa emerged as new powerhouses in track and field – a boost for Africa while Russia remained clouded in a doping scandal and the sport’s stars failed to live up to their billing.


Kenya and South Africa finished second and third respectively on the medal table in London behind the United States who garnered 33 medals.

Kenya’s haul of 11 medals represented their second-best performance in championships history after their 16 medals in Beijing in 2015. South Africa’s six medals was their best finish ever at a world championships event.

Kenya’s total consisted of five gold medals which included a sweep of women’s and men’s 1500m as well was medals in the men’s marathon and 3000m steeplechase. One medal came as a big surprise as Hellen Obiri denied favourite Almaz Ayana in the women’s 5000m but Kenya’s solid Diamond League meant their success was no surprise.


South Africa continued to punch above their weight in world athletics in spite of their bungling national federations scandals. The athletes were able to find funding mostly from sponsorships and prize money to fund their trips and competitions overseas as money trickled in from the federation.

The athletes themselves launched a successful social media campaign in March to build support for the SA Senior National Championships. Nationals were scheduled for the same weekend as the World Relays, which ruled South Africa out of qualifying for the relays at Worlds the easy way.

The #FillUpPotch campaign raised the profile of Nationals and built interested among fans.

South Africa failed to qualify for the relays but their medal haul in London remained impressive.

A second place finish at Worlds capped off another successful year for a bunch of driven young athletes, led by Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya. Van Niekerk and Semenya both bagged gold in their main events – the men’s 400m and the women’s 800m – while Van Niekerk added a silver in the 200m and Semenya added bronze in the 1500m.

Recovered drug addict Luvo Manyonga’s fairytale received a huge boost as he bagged gold in the men’s long jump while compatriot Ruswahl Samaai took the bronze medal.

Lebogang Shange added a national record in the men’s 20km walk while there were season’s bests for Jenna Challenor and Mapaseka Makhanya in the women’s marathon.


While Africa enjoyed a breakout World Championships, the event ended on a slightly sour note as Bolt and Farah failed to finish on the expected high. Bolt won gold in the 200m, was beaten by drug cheat Justin Gatlin in the 100m and pulled out injured of the 4x100m.

The last image of Bolt on the track was a sad sight as he laid in agony following a pulled hamstring. Bolt was trotted out to say a farewell to the crowd but it was clear that he’d gone one big championship too far

Farah, meanwhile, didn’t get the double he hoped for. He claimed the 10 000m gold but was beaten in the 5000m by Muktar Edris of Ethiopia.


Athletics continued to struggle with the fight against doping in the sport as Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal continued to overshadow everything on the track.

The IAAF and the Court of Arbitration for Sport had their hands full with appeals from Russian athletes who wished to compete at the World Championships following the decision to ban Russia from the event.

In the end, some athletes competed under neutral flag but the scandal is raging on as the Winter Olympics approaches and the ban remains.


Athletics had a clean sprinter – Bolt – as its ambassador until London this year but his retirement has left sport reeling. South Africa’s Van Niekerk was touted as the sport’s next big star but he ended the year with a possibly career-altering injury as he tore his ACL in a charity rugby match.

Those who approved Van Niekerk’s participation in a rugby match have much to answer for. The sprint sensation had surgery in the US following his wedding and is undergoing rehabilitation therapy in Doha, Qatar.

He will miss the Commonwealth Games. Time will tell if he’ll ever get back to his best. Heaven knows the sport is counting on him!


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