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SA hurdles ‘veterans’ battle it out for 2017 bragging rights

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One of the most exciting rivalries in South African athletics will resume in Potchefstroom on Friday when LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks battle it out to become the national 400m hurdles champion.

The two international stars  have been dominating the event for the last nine years, with both Tuks athletes winning the title on four occasions. Van Zyl was victorious in 2008, 2011 and 2015 and 2016, while Fredericks won in 2010 and 2012 through to 2014.

It would be foolish to predict who is going to come out on top this time round, as time-wise they are only separated by 0.02sec this season. Fredericks tops the local rankings with a best time of 49.27, while Van Zyl’s best time is 49.29.

It’s actually uncanny how similar their achievements over the years have been. In 2006 Van Zyl was the Commonwealth Champion, while Fredericks won the title in 2014. Last year Van Zyl finished third in the Diamond League standings. Fredericks did so in 2014.

The 31-year-old Van Zyl has become something of an institution at the various national age groups championships over the last 21 years. He remembers competing at his first championships way back in 1995 when he was just nine years old. Since then he has missed out once only. That was in 1999 when he was playing rugby trials at Grey College in Bloemfontein.

The Tuks athlete won his first national title in 2005, beating the then national record-holder and hurdling legend Llewellyn Herbert. He was also victorious in 2006.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Van Zyl, who has the right to claim that he has been there, done that and got the T-shirt to prove it, has lost his hunger to lay claim to being South Africa’s best 400m hurdler.

‘I will admit there was a time when I was wondering why I bother competing at the South African Championships. At the time I was going through a really bad patch in my athletics career. It seemed as if everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but the one thing I will never be is a quitter, says the athlete, originally from Molteno in the Eastern Cape.

‘I managed to work through my problems. To eventually win the title again in 2015 was special. This time, when I settle down in my blocks to hopefully race in the final, I will be as hungry to win as I have ever been since I raced at the national championships for the first time.’

Both Van Zyl and Fredericks (pictured above) made it clear it will be foolish for them to think it is going to be only about them in the final. ‘There are quite a few talented young hurdlers who have come through the ranks. So it is definitely not just a case of pitching up expecting to win,’ said Fredericks (Tuks).

Le Roux Hamman who represented South Africa at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio, has the ability to spoil the party for the two ‘veterans’. His best time so far this season is 49.37, and he has beaten both Fredericks and Van Zyl.

The Tuks athlete admits to not being the fastest athlete out of the blocks. ‘I see myself more as an endurance hurdler, meaning that I’m only at top speed over the second half of the race.’

Constant Pretorius is another Tuks athlete who could medal. He had his breakthrough race in March when he raced to a time of 49.57 in Pretoria.

If nothing goes wrong, it could be a case of two brothers both winning medals at the South African Championships, as his younger brother Fredriech Pretorius has already become only the second South African decathlete to go past 8 000 points early this season.

Meanwhile Van Zyl tips the young Kefilwe Mogawane as another one to watch in the 400m hurdles.

Pictures of Van Zyl and Fredericks courtesy of Reg Caldecott


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