‘If I have a lane, I have a chance and I have nothing to lose. Therefore I will put up a fight right until the end.’ This is the attitude with which Wenda Nel will settle into her starting blocks for Wednesday’s 400-hurdles final at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. But Nel is also realistic, saying: ‘The final will be tough. I will be competing against the world’s best hurdlers. Most of them have run faster times than me, but in a final anything, absolutely anything, is possible. I just have to stay calm and focussed. I think I deserve to be in the final and actually it is cool to think that I can call myself a World Championships finalist.’
According to the Tuks/HPC athlete she will have to focus on getting her stride pattern right: ‘In both my heat and the semi-final I came onto the hurdles at a too fast pace. In the semi-final I surprised myself by leading with my left leg, my wrong leg, from the seventh hurdle. I was never planning to do so. Luckily I have had two good training races going into the final, so hopefully I will get my stride pattern right in the final.’ She describes her semi-final race as undoubtedly one of the hardest- fought battles of her entire hurdling career. At the second-last hurdle it was still a toss-up who would finish second to qualify automatically for the final – Nel or Britain’s Eilidh Child.
Somehow Nel was able to find that something special that enabled her to pass the Brit. Cassandra Tate (US) won the semi-final in 54.33 seconds, with Nel second in 54.63s and Child third in 54.80s. Nel says: ‘I cannot remember ever having fought so hard right until the end, but then again I was surprised at how much power I still had left in my legs over that last 100 metres.’ It is only the second time that Nel represents South Africa at a World Championships.
The first time was in 2011 in Daegu when she finished third in her heat in a time of 56.13s. She was eighth in the semi-final in a time of 57.06s. One of Nel’s strongest traits is her positive outlook on life.
For her the glass is always half-full rather than half-empty. She says: ‘I won’t lie. I have had to overcome some major disappointments in my athletics career, but I always realised that no matter how bad things seemed, I still had much to be grateful for. One of my best attributes as an athlete is my passion. I really love sports and will be forever grateful for my God-given talent. As long as I am able to run I will live out my passion to the fullest. This is what motivates me to train every day and it also enables me to push myself to the limit, trying to run faster times every time I compete.’
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott