Caster Semenya produced a tactical masterpiece to win the women’s 800m gold in a world leading time of 1:55.16, setting a national record, and catapulting South Africa to the third position on the medal standings, on the 10th and final day of the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba, the silver medallist behind Caster Semenya in Rio last year, took the silver medal in 1:55.92 while American Ajee Wilson, the 2012 world U20 champion, had to settle for bronze in 1:56.65.
“I just love you guys. It feels like home in London,” said Semenya after the race. “I used to say Berlin was like my home. Obviously it is South Africa, but there are such fantastic people here. Beautiful.”
“I’m lucky to have a great support team who work with me. Full credit to them. Another world title is a fantastic honour for me and I love to do it here in London. The crowd are so welcoming to me and it makes it feel even more special.”
On the prospect of bettering the world record, which currently stands at 1:53.28, she said: “We need to clear 1:55 first and it will require a lot of hard training.
“I have Olympic, World and Commonwealth titles now so maybe it is time to target the world record. It’s the next thing on the list. I know it will be difficult but I will have to attempt soon, maybe.”
Silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba, satisfied with second place, for now, said: “I am very, very happy. This medal is for all Burundians and they are happy now.
“Everybody is watching in Burundi. I am the best runner of Burundi. I am so excited. In this final, everybody was looking good, all competitors are strong. So I got off there as fast as possible to make it a fast race.
“I am very emotional now. I congratulate Caster Semenya. I would like to beat her. Everything is possible.”
South Africa ended the championships with two new national records set at London 2017, and a total of six medals – the nation’s best ever medal haul at the bi-annual IAAF World Championships.
Earlier in the day, Lebogang Shange put up a valiant fight in the men’s 20km race walk event, missing out on a medal for SA by just 14 seconds.
After taking the lead in the latter stages he finished fourth in 1:19:18, setting a new national record as he bettered his own previous mark by 48 seconds. He was 25 seconds off the pace of Colombian gold medallist Eider Arevalo.
“I feel great. I’m not surprised by my position because I worked hard for it,” Shange said.
Aside from her 800m gold, Semenya also took bronze in the 1,500m event, while sprinter Wayde van Niekerk bagged two medals of his own, successfully defending his 400m title and charging to silver in the 200m event.
It was another step forward from last year’s Rio Olympics where the team had done well to finish fifth in the track and field standings by pocketing four medals.
“We have done extremely well,” said Athletics South Africa President, Aleck Skhosana.
“Everything fell into place as athletes and coaches proudly put every effort to ensure that the country’s flag is hoisted high and fly amongst the best in the world.
“I am so overjoyed, I really don’t know how to express it in words. We thank every role player for putting the interests of the country first and for understanding the bigger picture.
(Additional info from ASA)