South Africa: Semenya Chases Wicksell's 35-Year-Old Record

If Caster Semenya has her way, the oldest South African track and field record might just be wiped out of the record books on Thursday when she lines up to race the 1000m during the Liquid Telecom Athletics Grand Prix-meeting at Tuks in Pretoria.

Thirty-five years ago, on 7 February 1983 in Bloemfontein, Ilze Wicksell won the 1000 metre track event to set a new South African record by winning in a time of 2min 37.2sec.

Olympic and world champion Semenya makes no secret that she's been dreaming a long time to attempt the record, but there was never an opportunity for her to do so.

Should she succeed it would be classic scenario of one trailblazer in South African athletics taking over from another.

Wicksell who now works as a sports manager at TuksSport was the first female athlete to dip under two minutes in the 800m, proving that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Semenya has taken 800m running to a whole new level, not only improving the national record but dominating the event. She has been unbeaten for the last two years.

Wicksell has no qualms about Semenya bringing to an end her legacy. 'Records are there to be broken. I don't doubt that Caster is going to shatter my record and that's good. If records are broken it means our athletics is healthy."

There is slight chance that the weather could impact on the outcome of the race, as it might rain but the fact that Semenya will be challenged by the two Ugandan athletes, Winnie Nanyondo and Halimah Nakaayi, ought to ensure that the race will be run at fast pace no matter what the weather conditions are.

Semenya advised her rivals yesterday at a press conference to work with her to stick to the pre-agreed splits. 'If we all hit it from the start the easier it will be for everyone. But if it is going to come down to a sprint you know what will happen,' said Semenya hinting on her legendary acceleration skills towards the end of a race.

Asked if that was a threat. Semenya just laughed and said she is just referring to what the likely outcome could be if it is a slow race.

The world record in the 1000m was set by Svetlana Masterkova (Russia) in 1996 when she ran 2:28.98. According to Semenya she has not set her sights on a world attempt. But then again when she's in form nothing is impossible.

As to her own record race Wicksell said she had so nearly not lined up as her dad had passed away. He was one of her most loyal supporters, always believing in her abilities no matter what happened out on the track.

'Emotionally I wasn't up to racing, but a week before the race I realised that my father would have wanted me to run. The idea of running 1000 metres was to level the playing field between Zola Budd and me. I was a good 800m runner while she was competitive over 1500m."'

As expected it was a tightly contested race with Wicksell beating Budd by a mere 0.7sec. It was the only time the two of them officially raced each other. In later races, Wicksell would often act as a pacemaker for Budd.

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