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SA hurdles duo take their next step towards Rio

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South Africa’s two 400-metre hurdles champions, LJ van Zyl and Wenda Nel, will both return to ‘happy hunting grounds’ over the weekend.
Friday night sees Van Zyl (Tuks/HPC) competing at the Ostrava Golden Spike Meeting where he not only won but also he equalled his South African record of 47.66 seconds in 2011.
That winning time is still the meeting record.
Van Zyl is hesitant to make bold predictions about Friday. ‘I see this season as being all about setting myself small goals which I try to achieve. Every time I tick off a goal I set myself a new challenge. My main goal is to qualify for the Olympic final in Rio. Everybody knows that in a final anything can happen.
‘Because the Olympic Games are so very important to me I’m not planning to race very often in the build-up to Rio. The only other race in which I really want to get a good result is the African championships in Durban. I hope to beat the two Kenyans who performed very well at last year’s World Championships in Beijing.
‘As far as tomorrow’s race is concerned, I’m hoping for a sub 49s time. If I manage to do that, it will be the 66th sub-49sec result in my career and it will be at the 55th Golden Spike, which is a nice coincidence,’ said the Tuks/HPC athlete at a press conference.
Van Zyl finished fourth at the Diamond League Meeting in Shanghai last Sunday. His time of 49.13 is a season’s best so far.
Johnny Dutch (US), who set the season’s world leading time in Nassau when he won in a time of 48.36, will also be racing, as sowill Rhys Williams (Britain) whose best time is 48.84.
Nel (Tuks/HPC) completed a ‘hat trick’ of international victories last year when she won the 400m hurdles in 55.36 at the International Mohammed VI Meeting in Rabat, which is now part of the Diamond League.
‘It was definitely not one of my better performances but a win is a win and I will take it,’ she says.
Nel was fourth in the Diamond League Meeting in Doha, running a time of 54.84.
‘I have learned from experience that it’s not possible to run the perfect race every time you race. To be honest, I’m in the process of experimenting with my stride pattern between the hurdles. Before I go to the Olympic Games in Rio, I have to find out what works and what does not work. But it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not going to race for a good result on Sunday.’
Sweden’s Sara Petersen will probably be the athlete to beat in Rabat. At the final of the World Championships in Beijing last year she finished fourth in a time of 54.20, with Nel 7th in 54.94. More important is the fact that the Danish athlete ran her best time of 53.99s at the Diamond League Meeting in Paris last year.
When she won in Lausanne last year, Petersen also became the first Danish athlete to win a Diamond League race.
Janeive Russell (Jamaica), a former junior world champion and bronze medallist at the Commonwealth Games and Cassandra Tate (USA), a world indoor champion, will be the other athletes to watch.

Picture of Nel, courtesy of Reg Caldecott


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