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Hezekiel Sepeng (Sehpeng) South Africa (800m)
Born 30 June 1974, Potchefstroom (150 km west of Johannesburg), North West Province, South Africa.
1.82m/ 70 kg. Lives in Potchefstroom. Married, with two sons
Manager: Jos Hermens; Coach: Jean Verster; Club: Mr Price AC.
South Africa’s top athlete of the 1990s, and, at 30, one of the most experienced middle distance runners in the Olympics. Multiple silver medalist in major championships: 1996 Olympics, 1994 and 1998 Commonwealth Games, 1999 World Championships, 2004 African Championships, plus numerous top-eight global finishes and dozens of sub-1:45 performances. One gold medal: 1995 World Student Games. Still dreams of the elusive gold and hopes to make it come true in Athens.
Ezekiel (the correct spelling), grew up on a poultry farm outside Potchefstroom. Started running in cross country events, where he was spotted by J.P. van der Merwe, a schoolmaster at prestigious Potchefstroom Boys High School. This was just as apartheid was ending. Sepeng became the first black schoolboy enrolled at Van der Merwe’s school
Sepeng represented Western Transvaal (now Central North West) in 1992 South African Junior Championships in Cape Town and won the first of his many silver medals in the 800 (1:49.94) and 1500 (3:47.81). Nominated as reserve for 1992 Seoul World Junior Championships. Athletics South Africa offered to send reserves if money could be raised by schools, clubs and provinces. Enthusiastic response sent Sepeng on his way to South Africa’s first participation in a global event following the lifting of the IAAF’s 16-year ban. Sepeng finished 5th and set new national junior record of 1:47.51.
Still a junior in 1993, finished 4th in the African Championships in Durban and 5th in Stuttgart World Championships (after having set another NJR--1:45.46--in semi-final). In 1994 won the silver medal behind Patrick Konchellah of Kenya at Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. A year later, at his second World Championships in Gothenburg, eliminated in semi-final, but won gold at World Student Games.
During buildup to 1996 Olympics, lowered long-standing national 800 record to 1:43.47 in pre-Games meeting in Durham (old record 1:43.7, set 1971 by Dicky Broberg; equaled 1973 by SA-born Marcello Fiasconaro). Improved record again in Atlanta Games final—1:42.74 (then #7 on All-Time list) for silver behind Vebjorn Rodal of Norway (1:42.69).
In 1997, eliminated in semi-final of Athens World Championships (1:44.91 in heat) but ran leg on South Africa’s 5th place 4 x 400m relay team. Finished 2nd in Zurich and Monaco GPs, won silver at World Student Games in Italy, and recorded 4th fastest time of year, 1:43.19. Added another silver to his collection in 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur (1:44.44, behind Kenya’s Japheth Kimutai). Frequently in conflict with federation over national vs. international commitments.
Edged for gold at 1999 Seville World Championships by defending champion and world record holder Wilson Kipketer (by 0.02 seconds over Sepeng’s 1:43.32). Ended the year with nine sub-1:45 clockings, 2nd places in Zurich and Brussels and 3rd places in Berlin, Monaco, Rome and the All-Africa Games in Johannesburg. Set current SA record, 1:42.69, in Brussels behind Kipketer.
In his second Olympics, Sepeng had to settle for 4th place (1:45.29). Best time of 2000 (1:43.98) ranked him #8 on the year. In 2001 he reached yet another global final in Edmonton World Championships but wound up 8th (1:46.68). In 2002, Sepeng was controversially withdrawn from SA team to Commonwealth Games in Manchester and also missed African Championships in Tunisia. For first time since 1998, failed to run faster than 1:44, though he still managed 2nd in Rome and 3rd in Monaco GLs.
Returned from Johannesburg to home-town Potchefstroom and engaged well-known middle-distance runner Jean Verster as his new coach. 2003 turned out to be a very good year. Mbulaeni Mulaudzi assumed role of South Africa’s top 800m runner, taking pressure off Sepeng, who finished in the top-three in four Golden League meetings, winning Berlin. In the Paris World Championships, unfortunately, he had to settle for 7th (1:45.74; Mulaudzi was 3rd), and later finished 6th (1:46.61) in the World Athletics Final and 8th at the All-Africa Games in Nigeria. He ended 2003 at #5 in the IAAF Rankings.
Sepeng once again had differences with Athletics South Africa in 2004 before being included in the team for Athens, but he showed himself ready to perform.. He beat an off-form Mulaudzi to win the National Championships/ Olympic trials (1:46.76), finished 2nd in the African Championships in Brazzaville (1:45.55), and notched top-5 finishes in Rome (2nd 1:43.94), Lausanne (4th 1:45.11) and Zurich (5th 1:44.38). In Athens, he advanced easliy from his heat but just squeeked into the final as the slower of two time qualifiers (1:44.75). The slowish first lap of the final (51:84) seemed well suited to Sepeng’s accustomed home-stretch heroics, but his protégé Mulaudzi took better advantage (2nd in 1:44.61) while Sepeng drifted back to 6th in 1:45.73. A slow 11th in Brussels (1:45.29), where Sepeng normally does well, showed the effect of a long season. Will the two weeks off make him a new man for the WAF?
South African Senior titles: 800m (5) -1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2004 ; 1500m (1) - 2001.
National senior records (3): 1:43.47 (1996), 1:42.74 (1996), 1:42.69 (1999). Still holds SA Junior record: 1:45.46 (1993). Also 4 x 800m – African, SA record 7:04.70 (#2 All-Time), Stuttgart, 1999.
Yearly progression, 800m: 1992 – 1:47.51, 1993 – 1:45.46, 1994 – 1:45.32, 1995 – 1:45.36, 1996 – 1:42.74, 1997 – 1:43.19, 1998 – 1:44.44, 1999 – 1:42.69; 2000 – 1:43.98, 2001 – 1:43.47; 2002 – 1:44.39, 2003 – 1:43.12, 2004 – 1:43.94
Other PBs: 1000m – 2:16.47 (2000); 1500m – 3:38.24 (1996). Indoor 800m – 1:45.12 (2003).
Sepeng is known in South African track circles for quiet acts of generosity to friends and family. In particular, he has provided financial help to fellow runners in need and to youngsters getting their start on the international scene.
Prepared by Gert le Roux for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2004.