LJ's League line-up | SASCOC - SASCOC

LJ’s League line-up

By Mark Etheridge

Commonwealth Games champion in 2006, Commonwealth silver medallist in 2010, African champion in 2010,┬á — South African champion and more importantly, national recordholder in 2011… LJ van Zyl is a hurdler on a high.

After a rocky last year or so with a performance graph that had more ups and downs than a lie detector graph, the man from Molteno has suddenly hit paydirt.

The Pretoria-based athlete upped the ante with a fabulous run of 47.66sec to break Llewellyn Herbert’s 11-year-old SA 400-metre hurdles record. It was a race that came out of the blue in wet unfavourable conditions at the LC de Villiers Stadium in Tshwane during a Yellow Pages meeting late in February.

That was no shot in the dark. At the national championships in Durban the 25-year-old again went quicker than Herbert’s old mark (47.81) and his time of 47.73 was just as impressive. And it wasn’t only in the hurdles that he was having success. He also blitzed his way to a personal best in the flat 400m when he ran 44.86.

A look at the IAAF world best lists for 2011 has Van Zyl occupying the top two spots on the 400m hurdles rankings, followed by countryman Cornel Fredericks in third spot with a 48.18, also hugely encouraging for the Stellenbosch youngster. And in the 400m flat Van Zyl is third quickest with that 44.86sec clocking.

So to what can he ascribe his success. “Well I’ve made a good few adjustments to my training programme but don’t want to say exactly what just in case I tread on anyone’s toes. But I also think a huge part of it is due to my programme off the track. I do Pilatus exercises and also have two rehab sessions a week with my physiotherapist, Jacqueline Swart. It costs a small fortune but it works like a bomb and helps so much with my stability and suppleness. I’m completely injury free now and thats the most important.

“I must say to run two 47sec for the hurdles and then a 44 for the 400m felt very good. I’m also so happy to be the 400m hurdles champ again with a 47.73 [he was only fourth in 2009 after technical hassles and was disqualified for false starting last year]. Times like 47.73 see people win people Olympic medals.”

He’s quite right. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Van Zyl ended fifth in 48.42… had he come up with his 47.66sec in that race it would have sealed silver behind world recordholder Angelo Taylor’s winning time of 47.25. And he would have been just 0.03sec behind Felix Sanchez’s gold-medal winning time in the Athens Olympics four years prior to that.

Coach Hennie Kotze, himself a former national 400m hurdles champion, also has his ideas about what has made Van Zyl faster. “I think we had an excellent training period in December where we worked really hard for 10 consecutive days where we trained twice a day and did lots of weights etc. It was just a top quality session that got us off to a great 2011.

“LJ’s gym routine has also changed a bit. He’s now doing more lifting but with lighter weights, not training like a bodybuilder. And then his weight has come down as well. Before last year’s Commonwealth Games he was about 81kg, now he’s down to about 78-77kg and that has made a big difference.

“His general lifestyle is also more relaxed right now and he’s showing more discipline both on and off the track. It’s a lot more harmonious and he’s in ‘the right place’ right now.”

Kotze raved about the 400m hurdles final at nationals.”In my opinion that was one of the best 400m hurdles races in the last five years and Cornel [Fredericks] also had a great role to play in making it a great race. The 400m hurdles has always been a proud tradition in SA athletics history and these two guys are keeping it that way.”

Van Zyl’s next outing will be the IAAF Samsung Diamond League meetings in Doha on 6 May and Rome on 26 May as well as Lausanne on 30 May.

Between Rome and Lausanne he’ll run in Ostrava (the Golden Spike meeting) on 31 May and the adidas Grand Prix in New York on 11 June. “I’d also like to fit in a 400m somewhere along the line as well because I really don’t think the SA record is too strong in that event [Arnaud Malherbe and Hendrik Mokganyetsi’s joint 44.59sec].

How fast does coach Kotze think Van Zyl can run in the hurdles this year? “Well as long as he gets a good draw and quick opponents, I think he’ll have every opportunity to run a few low 47’s. It will be good for him to run consistently under 48sec. Right now I reckon he’s capable of a 47.5.”

Roll on Doha and the rest of the European season!