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Athletes on track, field, and road gear up for Chengdu

An incredible 10 new national records were set across various track and field events at the enthralling 2023 University Sports South Africa (USSA) Athletics Championships, which took place from May 4-6 in the City of Roses, Bloemfontein.

Hosted at the Free State Athletics Stadium, the competition brought together South Africa’s best university athletes, who were not only vying for championship medals, but looking to stake their claim for a spot in the national squad jetting off to Chengdu for the upcoming FISU World University Games in July.

A total of 469 athletes, comprised of 278 male and 191 female competitors, representing 26 tertiary education institutions, took to the track, field, and road in 76 separate events over the three-day meet, with both individual and university pride on the line.

One of the standout performance came from North West University runner and Lesotho Olympian Neheng Khatala who shaved more than three minutes off the senior women’s 10,000m record, storming to victory in 34:49.18 - over two minutes ahead of the next competitor. She also added 5,000m and half-marathon honours as well. Another impressive performance came from North West University’s Tamzin Thomas, a semi-finalist in both the 100m and 200m events at the Napoli 2019 FISU Games, who clocked 11.42 seconds in the 100m final to equal the record which had stood for over 23 years.

In the men’s 100m, it was an emotional victory for second-year University of the Western Cape (UWC) student Gianno Peddy, who was disqualified for false-starting last year, but claimed gold this year.

"After winning the title, I knew that I would make the team for the World University [Games]," he said. "I was very emotional because has been my goal since last year. My short-term goal is to go to China and bring back the gold medal for myself and UWC, while my long-term goal is to qualify for the Olympic Games next season."

With a points-based system determining the overall university winners, it would be the University of Johannesburg on top with their 29 medals - 14 of which were gold - helping them to a total of 350 points to claim university bragging rights, finishing 43 points ahead of second-placed North West University, with University of Pretoria in third.

University of Johannesburg’s Manager and Coach Roger Haitengi was understandably proud of his team’s efforts at the championships.

"Over the past two years we finished second and third, respectively. This year, we had to improve to avoid being stagnant. Our club has an intense and strict training schedule, and I’m proud of what we achieved. I’m also happy that we have a long list of youngsters who will prolong the UJ dominance in South African university athletics competitions."

Commenting on the high level of competition on display at the event, Vice Chairman of USSA Athletics Glen Bentley said the future bodes well for athletics in the country.

"University athletics in South Africa and across the globe is the breeding ground for athletics development," he told "Names like Olympians Akani Simbini and Wayde Van Niekerk come to mind. In their 2013 Universiade, both failed to qualify for the finals and were both 9th fastest, but Akani returned in 2015 and won the gold in a sub 10-second time, smashing the world [University Games] record, while Wayde set the 400m world record at the 2016 Olympics. We find ourselves this time around with a new breed of athletes whose true potential will be seen in two to three years time."

Bentley says Team South Africa will no doubt look to make their mark on the athletics track and field in Chengdu.

"Athletics is a flagship code for South Africa at the Summer Games. The final squad selection will be confirmed soon, but we will send a big team and have athletes present in every event."

Posted by Fabio De Dominicis on 17 Aug, 2023.
Source: FISU
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