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Two top athletics stars swop track for saddle

What do top South African female track and field athletes do when they become tired of running or jumping? Well at least two of them look like turning into keen mountain bikers.

Estie Wittstock, a former Olympic sprinter, and Charlene Potgieter, South Africa’s second-best triple jumper of all time, both competed in the Nissan Trailseeker Hakahana 20-kilometre race at the weekend.

Both of them quit athletics at the end of this season.

Listening to them chatting about their respective mountain-biking experiences on Saturday, it becomes clear that this was not merely a one-off happening for them. It was actually the second time that Wittstock, 32, competed in the Nissan Trailseeker series.

She also raced at Van Gaalen where she experienced her first true mountain-biker experience when she took a tumble, but quickly got back on her bike and finished the race.

Wittstock represented South Africa at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, as well as at several IAAF World Athletics Championships.

She is the seventh best female athlete over 400m in South African athletics history.

It was her fianc├®, Morn├® Nagel, also a former sprinter, who persuaded Wittstock to take up mountain biking. The two got engaged about two weeks ago. “Yes, I was expecting it, we talked about it about three weeks ago, and when Morne wants to do something, he doesn’t wait until tomorrow, even though they are still busy to make my ring,” Wittstock told Road to Rio 2016. “Morne said he couldn’t wait – but the proposal was quite a surprise – on a Monday at 3pm. That’s what I like about Morne.”

Nagel’s best time of 20.11 seconds in the 200m is still the SA record.

ÔÇ£There was no way that I was, all of a sudden, going to stop participating in sports,ÔÇØ Wittstock explains. ÔÇ£I love the challenge of mountain biking and the camaraderie among the riders. We talk and motivate one another throughout the race, but it still remains a competition. I was involved in a sprint finish to the line.ÔÇØ

According to Wittstock, she still needs a change of mindset to be ready for mountain biking. ÔÇ£My most serious mistake is that I start off as if I am sprinting to the line and then, towards the end of the race, I fade because of exhaustion. There is definitely a huge difference between racing for a minute and racing for an hour.ÔÇØ

For Wiittstock the funniest moment during Saturday’s race was when a 12-year-old girl said to her: ÔÇ£Tannie moenie so bekommerd wees nieÔÇØ┬á (ÔÇ£Auntie, don’t worry so much,ÔÇØ)

Potgieter’s decision to quit athletics came as a bit of a surprise.┬á She and Patience Ntshingila were responsible for the revival of the women’s triple jump this past season.

In February, in Germiston, 27-year-old Potgieter bettered one of the oldest South African records with her jump of 13.61m.  A month later, in Potchefstroom, Ntshingila further improved the record to 13.89m.

At the African Championship in Benin, Potgieter jumped 13.90m, but unfortunately the wind from behind was too strong for the record to be ratified.

It was widely expected that one of them would be the first to jump 14 metres next season.

Potgieter said the reason why she has decided to quit, is her disillusionment with South African athletics. ÔÇ£The constant internal strife in the sport, as well as some of the decisions that have been made by Athletics South Africa, made me realise that there is no future in the sport.

ÔÇ£My husband, Albertus, is a keen mountain biker. Earlier this year he competed in and finished the Cape Epic. ÔÇ£That is why I also decided to take up mountain biking.ÔÇØ

The Nissan Trailseeker Hakahana was Potgieter’s first race.

ÔÇ£I really enjoyed myself.┬á But I must confess that I suffered on the climbs. I guess it is because my legs are used to jumping and not to battling up a climb. I also still have to get used to ‘waiting’, which is what mountain bikers call the bottleneck of a race.ÔÇØ

Potgieter sees cross-country racing as the new challenge of her sports career.

ÔÇ£I have asked Pierre Nel, the organiser of a cross-country series, to coach me.┬á Who knows, maybe I will be good enough to compete at next year’s SA Cross-Country Championship.ÔÇØ


2 comments
Sabatha
Sabatha

Best wishes to Estie & Morne. I would have liked to see Charlene compete in the Triple Jump and actually jump 14m-14.60m next year but never the less Goodluck on her Future Endeavours. I doubt I'll ever make my Grand Entrance on the athletics scene after the Comment from Potgieter

Mohamed Ally
Mohamed Ally

Congrats to Estie and Morne on their engagement. Best wishes to Charlene and Estie on their new found inspiration. We hope to see them take up some role in track & field in future.