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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

van Niekerk, Nene, Pillay and Isaacs to serve up 400m feast at ASA Senior Track & Field Champs

With the likes of Akani Simbine, Adriaan Wildschutt, Antonio Alkana, Kyle Blignaut, Prudence Sekgodišo Zeney Geldenhuys and Sokwakhana Zazini expected to take part, the 2024 edition of the Athletics South Africa (ASA) Senior Track & Field Championships promises to be the most entertaining senior national championships event in years. But of all the mouthwatering events which will take place at the Msunduzi Stadium in Pietermaritzburg from 18-21 April, the men's 400m is likely to receive top billing.

Boasting a World Record holder, Diamond League winner, World U20 Champion and a former national champion the one lap race will have athletics fans glued to the track. 2016 Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk who now splits his time between the United States and the Cape has confirmed his participation to set up an exciting clash against Zakithi Nene, Lythe Pillay and Gardeo Isaacs.

After winning gold at the 2023 ASA Senior Track and Field Championships in Potchefstroom, 400m World Record holder Wayde van Niekerk will be looking to defend his title in Pietermaritzburg. Photo Credit: ASA Media / Cecilia van Bers.

Nene who will be representing KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA) just three weeks after being part of the South African mixed 4 by 400m relay team that set a new national record (3:14.97) at the third ASA Grand Prix Meet in Johannesburg has raced van Niekerk before both on home soil and on the European circuit where he claimed his first Diamond League 400m race in Stockholm, Sweden last year. The man who is coached by Victor Vaz says nationals form part of his overall plan to do well at the Olympic Games.

"2023 was actually a bit of a challenging year which started off battling with a few niggles and then it just came right towards the end. So this year we have a good training programme which is all about steady progress and peaking at the right time before the European season and the Olympics," explained Nene who dipped under 45 seconds twice last season including a run of 44.74 in Poland which equalled the personal best he set in Zurich 2022.

After missing out on a medal thanks to a fourth place finish at the 2023 National Championships, Zakithi Nene has started off 2024 better than he did last year and is ready for Msunduzi. Photo Credit: Cuan Walker.

Isaacs who won the national title and a World University Games bronze medal in 2019 was also part of that mixed 4x400m relay team that rewrote the record books at the University of Johannesburg. After "I had a niggle a couple of weeks ago but it seems to be sorted now. I've had two great runs. I ran a seasons' best (45.96) in the 400m and we ran a national record in the mixed relay. I've never opened so fast this early in the season. I'm happy with that and I think we can just build on that."

Isaacs, who the bronze medal in Potchefstroom last year for Western Province Athletics, may have started the season strongly but he will be wary of Pillay. The 21-year-old who won the World U20 title in 2022 tends to save his best effort for the big day. Last year the youngster from Benoni ran a personal best 44.80 to take the silver medal behind van Niekerk's impressive 44.17. Having started the year with a 45.17 to win the national U23 title at the Pilditch Athletics Stadium in March, Pillay is confident about the year ahead saying the key is to remain humble and try not to focus on the hype.

Pillay in action at the 2022 World U20 Championships in Colombia where he won the 400m title. Photo Credit: World Athletics.

"I'm happy. My mind is strong. The whole point in starting the year early was to see how my body adapts to racing. One thing my coach really emphasizes is humility. Keep my feet down on the ground. I just like to remind myself that I'm just Beverly's son from Benoni."

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