Updated: September 14, 2016

Wayde van Niekerk, seen here winning the African 200m title in Durban, carried the SA flag at the highest level this season (photo credit: Roger Sedres/Image SA)

Track stars Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya were the star performers during a spectacular 2016 season for South African athletics.

Semenya closed out a superb campaign last week with her maiden victory in an international 400m race at the Diamond League final in Brussels, clocking a career best of 50.40 seconds, after winning the 800m race at the penultimate leg of the series to lift the overall crown in the two-lap event.

The former world champion had charged to Olympic gold in Rio last month in a national record 1:55.28 and remained unbeaten in her specialist discipline this year.

Van Niekerk, meanwhile, delivered a stunning performance, bagging Team SA’s only other gold medal at the Rio Games.

The 24-year-old sprinter had opened his season with a 9.98 victory over 100m at the Free State Athletics Championships in Bloemfontein in March, becoming the first man to run under 10 seconds (100m), 20 seconds (200m) and 44 seconds (400m) in a career.

At the Olympics, he set a 400m world record of 43.03, taking 0.15 off the 16-year-old global best previously held by American great Michael Johnson, further establishing his place among the fastest men in the world.

In other events, Luvo Manyonga produced the performance of his life to take the men’s long jump silver medal at the Games, just one centimetre short of gold, and he went on to set a personal best of 8.48m for victory at the Diamond League final in Brussels.

Sunette Viljoen, who narrowly missed out on a javelin throw medal at the 2012 London Olympics, approached her best form in Rio, also earning silver.

The two-time World Championships bronze medallist was ranked eighth in the world this year with a best heave of 65.14m set in Doha in May.

Meanwhile, speedster Akani Simbine enjoyed a breakthrough season, finishing fifth in the 100m final in Rio (0.03 outside a podium place) after setting a national record of 9.89 at a meeting in Hungary in July.

Earlier in the year, middle-distance runner Elroy Gelant had clocked a new SA 5 000m record, covering the distance in 13:04.88 in Hengelo in May.

Lebogang Shange set a national mark of 1:20:06 in the men’s 20km walk in Adelaide in February, and Anel Oosthuizen recorded a new SA standard of 1:34:49 in the women’s event in Podebrady in April.

At junior level, the SA team earned three medals at the U-20 World Championships in Bydgoszcz in July.

Sprinter Gift Leotlela, who went on to compete at the Olympics with fellow teenager Clarence Munyai, bagged the silver medal in the boys’ 200m final.

Javelin throwers Johan Grobler and Jo-Ane van Dyk also secured silver in the boys’ and girls’ events.

On the road running circuit, Stephen Mokoka was the top performer at the World Half-Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March, taking 10th place in the men’s race in 1:01:27.

Nolene Conrad was the first SA woman home, finishing 37th in 1:13:45.

In May, Lusapho April won the Hannover Marathon in Germany for the third time in 2:11:27, producing the best performance by a South African athlete in the first half of the IAAF Label road running campaign.

The road running season is set to conclude over the next few months, with upcoming events including the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon this weekend, the Old Mutual Soweto Marathon in November, and World Marathon Majors races in Berlin, Chicago and New York.