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SA quartet ready to give their all in Abu Dhabi season-opener
- Updated: March 4, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
South Africa’s prospective Rio Olympics triathletes get their first racing test of the year underway in Abu Dhabi on Saturday when the ITU World Triathlon Series blasts into action.
London Olympian Richard Murray, pictured above, booked his spot in this years Games courtesy of a third place finish at the Rio Olympic qualification event last year and he’s joined in the 67-strong men’s line-up by a second South African, Henri Schoeman.
And in the women’s line-up another two South Africans are in the mix, London-based Gillian Sanders and Stellenbosch’s Mari Rabie.
Murray showed some superlative form in 2016 with World Cup wins in New Plymouth and Cozumel and a WTS win in Edmonton while he came third in the Abu Dhabi event last year.
He told Road to Rio 2016: ‘So, after three months, plenty of miles spent working hard it’s time to get back to the media spotlight and WTS racing.
‘I feel positive with my form and lead up to Abu Dhabi, with a few minor setbacks on arrival and accommodation problems, but happy to be focused and motivated for my first event.
‘There’s a new bike and the Olympic year ahead. I’m planning to build my way through the season with a build up to Cape Town and then again for the Olympics.
Looking forward to tomorrow and my first race, it’ll be good to see where the form is at and then plan post race for the next events.’
Schoeman will in all likelihood be a little undercooked going into the season’s first big match after picking up a knee injury early in the new year after trying his hand at some road races over 10-21km in his home town of Durban..
‘I felt strong and confident in my running form as there was some good competition which helped me gauge how hard I could push myself and which areas I needed to focus on for improving. Early in the New Year, training was going well, I got a good few miles of running in and worked hard on the bike and in the pool to improve my strength and fitness.’
But mid-January, before a 21.1km road race, he started feeling a niggle in my right knee although he put it down to mere stiffness from training.
‘I ran a solid time but during the last 8km I could feel it was definitely more than stiffness from training. The following week consisted of multiple doctor’s visits, massages, strapping and lots of rehab.’
It ended up with Schoeman not being able to run at all, with even aqua-jogging being painful and he had to forego the KZN Champs in early February.
The diagnosis turned out to be a combination of bursitis around the knee and a general imbalance and tightness in the leg.
‘Once we established that, we could finally start treating the actual problem. I was worried as WTS Abu Dhabi started disappearing from my grasp. This was when I was introduced to Davor Savija who specialises in EMS training at Prime Human Performance Institute. We worked on different exercises to try and simulate running as I was not able to run at all. He helped me with exercises, stretches and multiple techniques to improve my stride and overall run form. All the while I kept my head down in the gym, on the bike and in the pool.
‘After countless exercises, ice baths and recovery jogs, I could finally start running again two-three weeks ago. I managed to get in some hard-run sessions and tried my best to take every possible precautionary measure to ensure full recovery.
‘So I’m looking forward to starting the 2016 season and I think Abu Dhabi will be a very good measure to see where I am and where I can still improve to ensure that I reach and remain at optimal fitness and condition throughout the season.’
Sanders, like Murray, Schoeman, part of the silver medal-winning team at the Commonwealth Games, is raring to go. ‘Training over winter has gone well and all indications are that I’m in good shape. Rio is now the 100% focus and everything is geared towards that at the moment.
‘Having said that, I still need to cement my qualification so that’s what these next few races are about. I’m excited to race again and see how I’ve “wintered”. I’ll just be doing four races between now and the end of May and then probably only one race in July before the games in August.
‘I don’t want to overcook it race wise. I’m looking decent on the qualification simulation at the moment (26th) so it’s not a matter of me trying to chase points and travel all over which should hopefully keep me fresher come Rio in August.
‘It’s a big year and I couldn’t be more excited to race because I love the heat. It’s a great venue…but I crashed there last year so it will be nice to see the run course this time,’ she laughed .
‘My races look likely to be East London (SA Championships) and then WTS events at Gold Coast and Yokohama and then Hamburg in July, all with hot weather like Rio…which suits my skinny frame!’
As for Rabie who started making good progress in the latter half of last year, she’s playing her cards close to her chest.
‘First race of the season is always a good benchmark to just see where we are at and where everyone else is at,’ she told Road to Rio 2016.
‘But a lot has changed in the last couple of months, I’ve joined renowned Aussie coach Darren Smith and been training in Stellenbosch under him with training partners Sweden’s Lisa Norden (Olympic 2012 silver medallist) and England’s Jodie Stimpson (Commonwealth gold in 2014).
‘But things have been going well. I’m just hoping for good execution tomorrow that can reflect the hard work we have done and the changes we have made.
‘Basic philosophy is that we’ve moved from outcome based to process based. A few things are certain: I’m healthy, in way better shape than I was last year this time and I’m running and swimming really well. So at this stage I think a solid race is what want right now. I need to perform well over a number of races in the next two months.’
Another South African woman hoping to get to Rio this year is Australia-based Anel Radford. ‘I decided not to race Abu Dhabi. I’m racing Mooloolaba World Cup next weekend instead and then African champs in east London the following weekend.
‘Those two races work better for me in terms of minimising travel and maximising opportunities to score Olympic points. I’m looking forward to racing at home again soon!’
Picture of Murray on his new wheels courtesy of Michal Cerveny Photography