Will 20-year-old Basson Engelbrecht be able to join the small elite group of South African triathletes who are making their presence felt in international events within the next couple of months? These athletes are Richard Murray, Henri Schoeman and Wian Sullwald. It is still early days for Engelbrecht but judging by his performance at the recent African Sprint Cup event in East London, he certainly has the potential to become one of the best.
Engelbrecht, an athlete from the Tuks Triathlon Academy, finished third, merely 24 seconds behind the winner, Jonas Schomburg (Turkey). It is the first year that he is competing against the pro-elites. The next few weeks will be hectic for Engelbrecht.
He will begin by competing in a World Cup event in Plymouth, England, and a week later he will be off to Auckland to compete in another Word Series event. Engelbrecht says: ‘I spoke to one of my friends, a keen rugby player, and we agreed that to compete in a World Series triathlon race can be compared to playing Super Rugby. It is, in other words, a big step up – but I am looking forward to the challenge. I think my swimming and cycling are good enough to compete against the world’s best at the moment, but a lot of hard work still needs to be done as far as my running is concerned. In triathlon running is where a race is won or lost and I am still not comfortable when I run against the top athletes.’ Engelbrecht is actually a relative newcomer to the sport.
Engelbrecht, who represented Western Province at school level in hockey, athletics and swimming says: ‘I participated in my first triathlon when I was 12 years old, but I was never properly coached and had to participate in various other school sports as well. It was only in my matric year that I realized how big the triathlon scene is outside South Africa and how many opportunities there are. The turning point in my triathlon career probably came about when I met Lindsey Parry, who is involved with the High Performance Centre (HPC), while I was competing in Europe. I was not happy with the way I was performing and when I told Lindsey about my frustrations he suggested that I should join the Tuks Triathlon Academy after matric. I followed his advice and I have never regretted the move. My initial plan was to study and train at Tuks, but I soon realised that it was almost impossible to compete successfully in international triathlons and study successfully as well. It is like trying to sit on two chairs at the same time. You are bound to end up falling between the chairs. I then came to an agreement with my parents that I would focus only on triathlon and I try to reap some rewards. I have won gold at the South African Junior Championships as well as the African Junior Championships and I also managed to get a few top-ten finishes in Junior European Cup-races. My worst disappointment was certainly the World Junior Championships in Edmonton. Because I injured my knee badly eight weeks before the championships I could not do any running. The week before I was due to compete I managed to do two short runs. In spite of this I had a good start. I was third to finish the swim first on the bike, but I just did not have the legs to be competitive on the run. I ended up finishing 20th which I don’t consider to be a good result.’
Engelbrecht decided to put his studies on hold again this season to focus on making a name for himself in international triathlon.
Story credit: HPC
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott