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Ken Borland

Van Zyl upbeat after long journey

Posted on February 17, 2012 by Ken

World Championships 400m hurdles bronze medallist LJ van Zyl’s journey to the London Olympics has not been without it’s disappointments and injury heartaches, but the South African is confident 2012 will be his best year yet.
    Van Zyl posted the four fastest times of 2011 but could only win bronze behind Britain’s Dai Greene and Puerto Rican Javier Culson in the Daegu World Championships, while in 2009 he also had the fastest time of the year but was eliminated in the semi-finals.
    But the 26-year-old has also been hampered by injuries, struggling through most of 2007 after winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2006, and he was battling a hamstring strain in Daegu last year.
    “This has been my best year in terms of base work, I started in November and I’m already doing better this year at the same exercises compared to when I broke the South African record last February [47.66],” Van Zyl told Reuters in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
    “The key thing is that I’m injury-free and I’m timing my peaks better. I’ve learnt how to pace myself and get to my peak for the major events.”
    In a country where athletics is hugely popular but has famously under-performed at the Olympics – South Africa has won just one gold medal (Josiah Thugwane in the 1996 marathon) since 1992 – there is plenty of pressure on Van Zyl to turn his undoubted ability into gold when it really matters.
    “There’s a lot of expectation, but I see it as motivation, not pressure,” the softly-spoken Van Zyl said.
    His impending marriage – on September 29, seven weeks after the Olympic 400m hurdles final – to Irvette van Blerk – a top-class South African road runner – is another reason why Van Zyl believes 2012 will be a great year.
    “Irvette is also hoping to qualify for the Olympics and will be running the London Marathon at the end of April. It’s nice that we share the same vision, she’s also preparing for the Olympics and she knows what it takes, she understands the sacrifices,” Van Zyl said.
    The part-time cattle farmer joked that a payout of R200 000 [19 600 euro] he received for breaking the South African record last year had been spent on buying a herd of cows for the customary lobola [dowry] payment grooms make to their bride’s family.
    Van Zyl, who has a personal best time of 47.66 seconds, said competition would be stiff in the Olympic 400m hurdles.
    “The Americans are always good, they’ll have two or three guys in the final, while there’s also Greene and Culson. Basically, everyone in the final has a good chance of doing well.
    “But there’ll definitely be more pressure on Greene in front of his home crowd. Anyway, I’ll just be focusing on my own race and my 10 hurdles,” Van Zyl said.
    The keen off-road biker has also decided to scale back on his races in the build-up to the Olympics.
    “My season is so long and I’ve had too many races before which has led to tired legs. So I’ll be concentrating on training until April and will then compete in the Yellow Pages Series [the domestic South African circuit]. We have three other fine hurdlers in South Africa, so the competition will be good.
    “Training at 1400m above sea-level in Pretoria will also definitely be an advantage when it comes to running in London, and the weather’s much better too!” Van Zyl said.

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