Gillian's home advantage | SASCOC - SASCOC

Gillian’s home advantage

At least one athlete will have true home advantage should she make it on to Team South Africa for next year’s Olympic Games in London, writes Mark Etheridge.

Our Gillian Sanders, 23rd at the London leg of the World Championships Series at the weekend, is based in London so will be completely familiar with the triathlon course used for the Olympics should she make the grade and earn selection for the team.

A qualified lawyer, Sanders has turned full-time professional for the last six months in order to give herself the best crack at making the SA team for the Olympics.

Said Sanders’ husband Mark on Monday: “There has a been quite a buzz in London as it is now one year to the games. This was not only the London leg of the WCS series, but also part of a number of test events for the Olympics next year, so it was great for all the athletes to get out on the Olympic course and have a taste at what the whole day might be like next year.

“It certainly has provided some┬áextra motivation for Gillian to make sure she is on that┬ástart-list┬áin a years time, but not only that, she would love to be a podium contender. Personally, I do take a lot of heart from the fact she has only been a full time,┬ádedicated┬áathlete for the past nine months, and is still improving. By this time next year, she will be a totally different proposition as an athlete.”

Originally from Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Sanders studied law at Stellenbosch University before moving to the United Kingdom. And certainly the decision to go pro full time seems to be paying off for her. She’s improved her ranking from 300-plus to the 61st she now finds herself in after the weekend’s race.

“After a slightly disappointing result in Hamburg, to finish 23rd in what has probably been the strongest field of the series is a nice comeback, as well as finishing ahead of a lot of athletes who ranked higher than her. If she had had her running legs on the day and run close to a 34min 10km she would have had a top 10 so she can mix it with some of the best, and it’s starting to become a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’.

“She has had a slight foot niggle which did hamper some of the prep for the race which┬áwasn’t┬áideal, but there are no excuses and athletes have to be honest with themselves, something Gillian┬ádefinitely┬áis. To put some perspective on it, she DNF’d in the same race last year, and now after being full time for nine months has finished close top 20. It’s a pretty good effort, and she is still improving.”

Certainly only a handful of girls seem to have shown the same improvement as Sanders and there seems to be plenty more to come.

“One other aspect, as strange as it may sound, this race almost felt like a ‘home’ race, with Gillian being able to prepare where she trains day-in day-out, and obviously to sleep at home,” said Mark.

“On the course there were a lot of South┬áAfricans┬áwho gave a lot of support for both Kate [Roberts] and Gill and its also great to be able to have so many friends out supporting. She felt really proud to be representing SA out there and the situation will only be magnified next year.

“I think after the GB girls, Gill may be next in line to get the most of the support next year. It really is quite interesting to be based in London in the lead up to the Games and there is a great deal of focus on it at the moment and the attention and hype is starting to gather pace.”

Sanders’ next race will be a World Cup event in Hungary, Sprint World Champs in Lausanne and then the WCS final in Beijing and the WCS in Yokohama. The pursuit for points continues, and if she keeps working hard and keeps improving the world will be her oyster.