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SA’s Olympic race walkers chase honours in China
- Updated: September 22, 2016
South Africa’s two Olympic race walkers, Lebogang Shange and Wayne Snyman, will compete in the Taihu Race Walking Multi-Day Competition in Wuzhong, China starting on Sunday.
International race walkers like to refer to the race as the ‘Tour de France of international race walking’ because, like the famous cycling event, the winners of each stage get to wear a yellow ‘jersey’ the next day.
The Taihu Race is a four-day event. The first stage is over 20km, the second is nine kilometres, followed by seven kilometres on day three and then a final stage of 9km. The team with the accumulated fastest time over the four stages will win the first prize of more than R400 000. There is also a prize for the athlete with the fastest individual time.
Judging by last year’s results the two Tuks/HPC athletes will certainly be in with a chance to enrich themselves with a few rand. Their team captain is no other than Australia’s Dane Bird-Smith, the bronze medallist in the 20km race walk at the 2016 Olympics.
Having Bird-Smith as a teammate is certainly an advantage because he was a member of the winning team last year. His victory in two of the stages proved crucial in his team’s triumph.
Snyman (Tuks/HPC) admits that he finds the concept of competing in a four-day stage event somewhat strange.
‘I think the biggest mistake will be to overexert yourself in the first race, because it will be difficult to recover in time for the following day’s racing. I will start out somewhat conservatively. Hopefully I will get stronger and stronger during the four days of racing.’
Snyman is being coached by Bird-Smith’s dad, David, who himself was an Olympian who finished 10th in the 20km race walk during the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
With Smith’s guidance Snyman managed to improve his best time in the 20km race walk by more than three minutes during the last nine months. At the end of last year his best time was 1:23:42 and now it is 1:20:46.
The Olympic Games in Rio turned out to be slightly disappointing for Snyman.
‘I think my biggest mistake was that I so badly wanted to get a good result for myself and South Africa that I threw caution to the wind and arrived in Rio slightly over-trained. I did not realise this at first, because during the first 13 or so kilometres of my race everything went according to plan. I was on the verge of making a move on the race leaders when I ‘hit the wall’.
‘From then on it was all about survival, except that I was in a titanic battle with a friend of mine from Kazakhstan over the last few kilometres. There was no way that I was going to allow him to beat me and he did not.’
At the end of last year Snyman, a qualified teacher, resigned his job to focus on becoming competitive in international racing. As things did not quite work out the way he had hoped in Rio, he decided to sacrifice another four years of his life without a full-time job to focus only on his sports career.
‘A good result in China will certainly help me to make ends meet while I am preparing for the World Championships in London next year,’ said the Tuks/HPC-athlete.
Picture of Shange and Snyman courtesy of Reg Caldecott