Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 169 June 2024 | Page 51

The basis of this article was supplied by Nadia Rossouw PR on behalf of Curro Hazeldean .

Teen Sensation !

You may not have heard about 18-year-old sprinter Bayanda Walaza yet , but if his rapid rise to fame in 2024 is anything to go by , including qualifying for the Paris Olympics , his may soon become a household name in South Africa . – BY SEAN FALCONER
Bayanda Walaza ’ s meteoric 2024 season has taken him from a new school to the Paris Olympics
Images : Cecilia van Bers & courtesy ASA

South Africa has produced a number of world class sprinting talents in recent years , with the likes of Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine the best known after their exploits at the Olympics , World Champs and Commonwealth Games . Meanwhile , the country has done well at the World Relay Champs , and has been somewhat unlucky not to feature amongst the medals at global meets after issues with baton handovers , but the sprinting talent being produced in SA is undeniable .

Now , there is another young sprinter putting his hand up – in a big way – and making waves in the sport . That young man is Bayanda Walaza , a grade 12 learner at Curro Hazeldean in Pretoria , who has surged into the limelight with his medal-winning exploits this year , and is now set to explode onto the world stage as well , with a ticket to the Paris Olympics booked for the end of July , and then he will jet off to Lima , Peru at the end of August , for the World Under-20 Track and Field Champs .
A Shooting Star
Bayanda ’ s rise to prominence has been rapid , to say the least . In 2022 he finished eighth in the 100m final and sixth in the 200m final at the SA U18 Champs , and boasted personal bests of 10.88 seconds and 22.21 seconds for the two distances . The following year , he won the Central Gauteng U18 title for 100m , then finished second in the 100m and first in the 200m at the SA U18 Champs . He went on to claim the bronze medal in the 100m at the African U18 Champs in Zambia , and then later in 2023 , at the NWU ACNW Top 30 Meet in Potchefstroom , he set new personal bests of 10.37 and 21.00 as he won both his events .
However , that was just a precursor of what was to come in 2024 . Having taken up a scholarship opportunity with Curro in Pretoria , Bayanda started the year by winning both finals at the Curro Podium Final on 17 February , including
a PB 20.85 in the 200m . He then claimed the Gauteng North U20 Champs title on 8 / 9 March in the 200m , while also clocking a 10.31 PB in the 100m heats . Just under two weeks later , he lined up at the SA U20 Champs in Pretoria and blitzed his way to two national titles and two personal bests , winning the 100m in 10.13 and the 200m in 20.34 . At the time , this made him the fastest teenager in the world in 2024 !
More was to follow … At the SA Champs in Pietermaritzburg on 18 April , Bayanda found himself in the 100m final , lining up alongside Olympian Akani Simbine and many of the country ’ s top men , but the youngster held his own . He won his heat in 10.36 , then won his semi-final in 10.31 , and in the final , he clocked 10.27 to take the silver medal behind Simbine ( 10.01 ). That saw Bayanda crack the nod for the SA men ’ s 4x100m squad for the World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas , where he ran in both races that Team SA lined up for .
In the main event heats in the Bahamasa , the South Africans clocked a season best 38.83 to finish 14th
overall out of 32 teams , but failed to make the top 8 and the final . Along with the other 23 teams not in the finals , the South Africans then lined up in the repechage round , where the top two teams in each of the three heats would qualify for Paris , and Bayanda helped Team SA win their heat , and finish fastest team overall in the repechage , with an even faster time of 38.08 . ( If Team SA had run that time in the heats , they would have qualified for the final as the second-fastest team , and in the final that time would have earned Team SA the bronze medals , which bodes well for their chances of making the final in Paris .)
Dual Focus
Since joining Curro , the young sprinter has been coached by Thabo Matebedi , a former SA international sprinter . Coach T , as he is known to his athletes , has an impressive record of mentoring eight African champions , and his expert guidance has helped Bayanda achieve so much this season , but it is also the young sprinter ’ s dedication to both athletics and his academics that has propelled him to unprecedented success .
Despite his extraordinary speed on the track , Bayanda remains grounded and committed to his studies , which will see him pursue a degree in BCom Logistics next year , at either the University of Pretoria or Tshwane University of Technology . That means he needs to fit his Matric studies in with his training programme , which now includes the Olympics as well as the World Champs !
Reflecting on his journey thus far , and his rapid rise to stardom , Bayanda is quick to thank all that have supported him . “ I will forever be grateful for the opportunities that I ’ ve been given so far . Having the support of the Curro scholarship has been instrumental in my academic and sporting journey , and I am incredibly excited to represent South Africa on the world stage and make my mark in Paris and Peru ,” he says . 51