Considered the breeding ground for future South African track and field champions, the 2019 Varsity Athletics series will start with a bang in Stellenbosch on Friday evening.
Now in its seventh year, the annual series featuring some of the country’s top athletics universities is expected to step up a gear starting at the newly refurbished Coetzenburg Athletics Track.
The next generation is ready to etch their names into the history books with the first meeting in Stellenbosch boasting some of the country’s top rising talent.
Coetzenburg will welcome the future king and queen of the 400m hurdles with world youth and junior champions Sokwakhana Zazini and Zeney van der Walt set to make their mark in their first year competing in Varsity Athletics.
Maties are expected to unleash world junior high jump champion Breyton Poole as one of their trump cards and one of the main attractions in the opening meeting.
A host of records could take a tumble or in the very least be given a scare on Friday evening considering the pedigree of the line-up. Poole added the world junior bronze medal to his growing list of accolades and will be looking to make Varsity Athletics history in Stellenbosch.
The 18-year-old’s crazy gravity-defying act should not be missed as he takes aim at Mpho Links’ Varsity Athletics high jump record of 2.15m set last year. Poole may be considered vertically challenged standing 1.73m in his shoes, but that has not hamstrung the crown favourite who boasts a personal best of 2.25m.
The women’s 400m hurdles could be one of the highlights of the night with training partners Van der Walt and former Youth Olympic champion Gezelle Magerman going toe to toe over the barriers. Former South African champion and Tuks athlete Anneri Ebersohn set the Varsity Athletics record of 57 seconds in 2014 and could see her mark fall on Friday.
Van der Walt has emerged as one of the country’s greatest prospects setting a new South African junior record at the 2018 national track and field championships. Her time of 55.05 seconds was not only faster than one-lap hurdles legend Myrtle Bothma’s 35-year-old junior record but also launched her into fourth place on the South African senior all-time list. Van der Walt and Magerman have already developed a close bond in training, they will line up as fierce competitors chasing points for Tuks and a piece Varsity Athletics history.
“When we back into the blocks then it is every woman for themselves and we will be giving it our best on the night,” Van der Walt said.
Zazini’s personal best of 49.32 over the senior hurdles is faster than Varsity Athletics record of 49.49 which PC Beneke set in 2014. Should the world youth record holder fire at all cylinders he might just add another accolade to his growing list of achievements.
“I work hard to run sub-50-second times each and every race and hopefully I will manage to dip under 49 seconds as well,” Zazini said.
Tuks have dominated the Varsity Athletics since its launch in 2013 winning the titles on four occasions while sharing the spoils with North-West University in 2015. The University of Johannesburg is the only other team to win the coveted prize when won the title in 2016.
Varsity Athletics manager Jana Arlow believed this year’s Varsity Athletics will once again provide the country’s hottest young track and field athletes with a springboard to launch their careers.
“We are excited to see the next generation and the Varsity Athletics stalwarts show their talent over the next two meetings,” Arlow said.
“Since 2013 we have seen Olympians and world champions like Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk in action at Varsity Athletics meetings and look forward to seeing the future stars start out their careers at this level.”
The next leg of the series will be held at the Kenneth McArthur Stadium in Potchefstroom on March 15. The 2019 Varsity Athletics series will be broadcast live on SuperSport Select (channel 210) from 17:00 to 20:00.
The meeting will start at 15:30 with the FNB hammer throw for women and is expected to come to an emphatic end with the Wimpy 4x100m relay for men. Tickets can be bought on the Varsity Sports app or by clicking here.
By Ockert de Villiers