Zeney van der Walt earned South Africa's second gold medal of the IAAF World U20 Championships on Friday night, charging to a commanding victory in the 400m Hurdles Women final in Tampere, Finland.
Competing in wet conditions, Zeney Van der Walt bolted over the line in 55.34 seconds, finishing well clear of second-placed Jamaican athlete Shiann Salmon who clocked 56.11, with Switzerland’s Yasmin Geiger third in 56.98.
Van der Walt led turning for home, and she was by far the strongest over the final two barriers, pulling away as she crossed the line to add the world U20 title to the world U18 title she won in Nairobi, Kenya last year.
“It was a tough race against the Jamaican but I was able to focus on my own race and the weather didn't bother me because I train in the rain,” said Van der Walt.
“It was a really emotional moment when I crossed the finish line. This is a big achievement: my coach and I have been working for this for so long.”
The South African junior record-holder gold medal performance adds to Kayle Blignaut's gold in the Shot Put after the giant young man opened the nation's campaign in style earlier in the week.
In the semi-finals of the 400m Hurdles Sokwakhana “Soks” Zazini confirmed his status as the title favourite by winning his race in 49.43, progressing as the fastest qualifier for Saturday (tomorrow) night's final.
Lourens Steenkamp finished sixth in his race in 51.26 and he was eliminated.
Earlier, in the Javelin Throw Men qualifying round, Anro van Eeden launched a 72.22m heave, progressing automatically to the final on Saturday.
The South African men's 4x100m Relay team, who entered the event among the favourites for gold, were disqualified in their heat and missed out on a spot in the final.
“Performing under wet conditions is always challenging and Zeney must be congratulated for overcoming that to fly the SA flag high,” said Aleck Skhosana, the President of Athletics South Africa.
“We still have other podium opportunities from all the athletes who have progressed to the finals in their respective events and we are confident that they will fight for the nation. We thank Zeney, coaches and support staff for the achievement.”