The South African team opened their campaign in spectacular fashion on Wednesday, securing top spot in the medals table after the first day of competition at the IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya.
Competing in wet conditions, sprinters Tshenolo Lemao and Retshidisitswe Mlenga earned gold and silver respectively in the Boys 100m final.
The South African duo scooped the nation’s first ever medals in a world championship event over the short-sprint distance, with Lemao clocking 10.57, holding off Mlenga by just 0.04. Jamaica’s Tyreke Wilson settled for bronze in 10.65.
“It feels good to win the first gold of the championship for South Africa,” Lemao said afterwards.
“I came prepared for the race. After finishing second in my heat in the semi-final, my dad and coach prepared me well and I came in more confident in the finals.”
“Athletics was never my No.1 sport. I had passion for other disciplines like hockey and soccer. But in the eighth grade I developed an interest in athletics,” he added.
Although he had entered the race as the favourite after clocking the fastest time in the semi-finals (10.37), second-placed Mlenga was delighted to step on the podium.
“No disappointment and I have no excuses. They beat me fair and square, and I’m happy I was able to get a medal,” he said.
“This win means a lot to me, though I expected more than the silver today. The false starts and the weather affected my race, but I am exicited to be here today.”
“My greatest inspiration is my coach who has belived in me all through,” Mlenga added.
Both Lemao and Mlenga are scheduled to run the heats of the 200m on Friday.
Meike Strydom was in the form of her life, producing a personal best heave of 16.40m to finish fifth in the Girls’ Shot Put final.
In the Girls 3000m final, Dipuo Mashishi struggled to put up a fight in tough conditions, though she gritted her teeth and pushed hard to take 12th place in 11:06.60.
Sprinters Rose Xeyi (12.18) and Joviale Mbisha (12.27) also displayed good form in the Girls 100m heats, with both athletes progressing to Thursday’s semi-finals.
In the Boys 800m heats, Ntuthuko Ndimande went out hard but struggled to mount a challenge down the finishing straight. He took fourth position in his race in 1:56.16 and missed out on a place in the final.
Earlier, in the morning session, Tharina van der Walt booked her place in the Girls Discus Throw final, to be held on Friday. She launched a 48.81m heave with her first attempt in the qualifying round, progressing automatically to the medal contest.
“Congratulations to all our young athletes who competed today, especially our new generation of sprinting stars,” said Athletics SA President, Aleck Skhosana.
“We are proud of their historic achievement. Well done also to all parents who travelled all this way to support their children. We thank the coaches for ensuring they arrived well prepared.”
(Additional reports from ASA)