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Nel and Van Niekerk look forward to final as Van Rensburg looks for answers
- Updated: August 25, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
As Wenda Nel and Wayde van Niekerk basked in the glory of making the 400-metre hurdles and 400m flat finals at the World Athletics Championships in China, others were left to reflect on what could have been.
Nel was the first South African into a final as she ended second in her hurdles heat. Now she readies herself for the race of her life in Beijing on Wednesday.
‘I’m unbelievably happy, right out of my skin,’ she told Road to Rio 2016. ‘It was a hard race but a great race and I really battled for the line but actually surprised myself with how much power I still had, which is very encouraging.
I’ve worked so hard for this and I just felt it was my turn. As most people know I’m a devote Christian and have been surprised to see how many other religious people have been here and how we are all blessed to be competing.
‘It was stressful to be racing in the semi-finals and trying to make the final. OK it wasn’t a personal best but the race was nice and hard and it worked out nicely. Now I’m just going to take it nice and restful. I have absolutely nothing to lose and have already achieved my goal that I set out for at the championships. The way I’m looking at it is that if I’ve got a lane, I’ve got a chance to win.
‘After my heats I knew I had to adjust my pace and I was again too fast for the hurdles and actually surprised myself by leading with the wrong leg from hurdles seven to 10. So the heats and semis have actually been great training and I’ve learnt a lot. If it all comes together in the final, I’m believing anything can happen. there are so many good girls in that final but I’m proud to think that I’m actually one of them as well now.’
Of the nine finalists, seven have season-best times faster than her 54.37, but as she says, if you have a lane you have a chance.
Meanwhile in the men’s 400m, three of the finalists have faster times than Van Niekerk but it’s the manner in which he has run his heats and semi-final, with oodles in reserve that will give South Africans hope.
For his part, the Cape Town born Bloemfonteiner is as laid back as ever: ‘Thank you, thank you to all my South African support, I’m loving it.
‘I’m just happy for all of my team-mates as well, it’s just awesome seeing the team putting out their best efforts and going all out to make the country pride.
‘I’m still calm right now and there’s only one race to go. As usual I’ll just be trying my best.’
South Africa’s first runner to see track action was young Rynardt van Rensburg in the men’s 800-metre heats and Van Niekerk’s fellow Bloemfonteiner was left bitterly disappointed after finishing seventh and last in his heat (1:48.61).
Looking back thought and Van Rensburg has already found lots to take forward to his next challenge. He told Road to Rio 2016: ‘In my race I had the perfect first 500m, exactly as I wanted but with 300m left I felt something wasn’t right, my body just didn’t want to go. I ran a 1:48 so obviously something was wrong.
‘No excuses at all but looking back it might be a combination of a few things. I was struggling bit with a knee injury in February and when I got back from Europe it was a bit sore and never really came right.
‘Then I think arriving at the champs from South Africa four days before my race probably wasn’t the best. I’d say you need at least seven days, research says it’s one day for every hour’s time difference. So it’s something I’ll definitely keep in mind ahead of the Olympics. Most countries had training camps in the same time zone before the champs.
‘And then also, my season was very long, having been trying to qualify since March, peaking for SA champs, then in Europe, then at World StudentGames and then World Champs is a lot to ask. Still, my main goal was to medal at World Student Games and I got my medal to it was still a successful year.
‘A lot has definitely been learnt! You only have a certain number of great races a year and can only peak that much. So this is all something I’ll take away with me and work on in the future to be at my best when it matters most.’
South Africa only have two athletes in action on Tuesday with there only being one session of action (afternoon).
The men’s 200-metre features seven heats and Akani Simbine and Anaso Jobodwana will line up in heat five and seven respectively.
Fastest man in his heat is Bermuda’s Julian Forte with a 20.04, followed by Briton Zharnel Hughes’ 20.05 while Simbine and Canada’s Brendon Rooney’s 20.27 are joint third quickest. First three across the line get automatic qualification into the semis.
The seventh and final heat has Anaso Jobodwana, SA record holder this year before Wayde van Niekerk became the first SA athlete under 20-sec, fastest with a 20.04 compared to Antigua’s Miguel Francis (20.05).
And national 400m champion Justine Palframan, who also dropped out in the first round heats, said: ‘I think I was just to nervous, and my nerves got to me. It just didn’t feel like I was in the race at all.
‘But this is all just building more exposure. I really wish younger athletes could experience this sooner so when they get here to World Championships they’ll know how to deal with it.’
Picture of Wenda Nel comes courtesy of Roger Sedres and ImageSA