When LJ Van Zyl settles down in his starting blocks on Friday night (17/07) to run the 400-hurdles at the Diamond League Meeting in Monaco, he will have his work cut-out. Five of his rivals can boast with faster times so far this season than his best time of 48.78s. But, then again, races are not won on paper and statistics do not take into account an athlete’s hunger to excel.
Van Zyl is currently a man on a mission. During the past three seasons he has been battling to regain the form he had in 2011 when he twice ran times of 47.66s (SA record) and finished the season as the fastest 400-hurdler in the world. Major disappointments for the Tuks/HPC athlete were not being able to qualify for the finals of the 2012 Olympic Games, the 2013 World Championships and the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
He even battled to break 49 seconds and between 2012 and 2014 only managed to do so twice.
In spite of being truly frustrated and at times even despondent, Van Zyl vowed that he would fight back and again make his presence felt in international races. This is exactly what he has been doing this season.
In the Diamond League Meeting in New York he was second in a time of 48.78 seconds. He was also second in the Diamond League Meeting in Lausanne in a time of 48.92s. Van Zyl’s consistency in the ‘big league’ is paying off because he is currently fourth in the Diamond Race standings for the 400-hurdles.
Bershawn Jackson (US) is leading (10 points), followed by Johnny Dutch (US) (8 points), Javier Culson (Puerto Rico) (7 points) and Van Zyl (4 points). Jackson and Dutch will both be racing tomorrow night. In spite of his improved form the Tuks/HPC athlete is still hesitant to make bold predictions: ‘I am taking it one race at a time and let my legs do the talking. You can say that I want to fly under the radar. My main goal at the moment is to consistently run good times. If I manage to do that, I will be able to give a good account of myself at the World Championships in Beijing.’
The other Tuks/HPC athletes who were selected for the World Championships are Akani Simbine (100 metres), Cornel Fredericks (400-hurdles), Orazio Cremona (shot put), Lebogang Shange (20km race walk), Marc Mundell (50km race walk) and Wenda Nel (400-hurdles). Judging by their results so far this season, they should all have a realistic chance of qualifying for their respective finals. Simbine’s time of 9.97 seconds in the 100 metres puts him 17th on the IAAF-list; Van Zyl is ranked 11th in the 400-hurdles and Nel is ranked 10th in the 400-hurdles.
Cornel Fredericks, the Commonwealth and African 400-hurdles champion, might just be the proverbial joker. He has been hampered by an Achilles tendon injury and his first race for the season was last Saturday in Madrid where he qualified for the World Championships. It is safe to assume that he will improve with leaps and bounds from now on.
The fact that Lebogang Shange is only ranked 46th in the 20km race- walking is somewhat misleading, especially if one studies the results of the World Championships. In 2013 in Moscow the winning time was 1:20.58. The second-place athlete finished in 1:21.09 and 1:21.21 was good enough for bronze.
In 2011 in Daegu the winning time was 1:19.56 and the athletes who came second and third timed at 1:20.27 and 1:20.28.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott