Pretoria - World 400m hurdles bronze medallist LJ van Zyl says he approached his first race of the season in his specialist event as an Olympic first-round heat.
Van Zyl qualified for the London Olympic Games after he won the one-lap hurdles race in a time of 49.42 seconds, dipping under the Olympic standard of 49.50 for the second time, at the Yellow Pages Inter-club meeting in Pretoria on Thursday night.
“I just did what my coach told me, to handle this event as an Olympic first round and just make sure I win the race and go to the next round," Van Zyl said.
“I’ve got training at 8am [on Friday] and that will be the semi-final.”
Van Zyl ran his first qualifying time at last year's IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, where he secured bronze in a time of 48.80.
Last year he got his season off to a blistering start, setting a new national record of 47.66 seconds on the same track in February.
The 26-year-old conceded on Thursday that he was out of the blocks too soon in 2011, which saw him losing form when it really mattered, at the global championships.
“Last year in the same competition I was about two seconds faster but at the end of the season I was a bit flat,” he said.
“This year I want to have more of a build-up to July and August.
"This year is the latest I’ve started to compete in the season, and my whole season has been shifted up by two months.
“Yesterday [Wednesday] we had a fast 200m session and we raced today so my programme is all on July/August for me to peak at the Olympics.”
Van Zyl, who clocked the four fastest times in the world last year, said he was relieved to get the Olympic standard out of the way.
“[This time] is not so fast if you have a personal best of 47.66, but it is one of the obstacles that you need to get past to go to the Olympic Games," he said.
“So now it is out of my way and next weekend is the SA champs [in Port Elizabeth] and another obstacle out of my way.
"I am definitely going to run faster than a 49.4 there.”
Meanwhile, South African sprinters Simon Magakwe and Tsholofelo Thipe set Olympic qualifying times in the men's 100m and women’s 400m races respectively.
Magakwe has now set qualifying marks for London in both the 100m and the 200m events this year, while Thipe added the 400m to the qualifying standard she set in the 200m.
Athletes need to reach the Olympic mark twice in their events - once locally and once at an international meeting during the period from August 27, 2011 to June 30, 2012.
At least one of these qualifying performances needs to be achieved after March 19.
The athletes must also participate in the SA Senior Championships next week to be selected for the country's Olympic team.
With Magakwe and Thipe qualifying on home soil they now need to replicate their performances in an international meeting before the June deadline.
Magakwe believed he could improve on his career best of 10.14 in the short sprint in the near future.
“I can go faster because I ran close to my personal best," Magakwe said.
"I think I can do better and I think this year will be a good year for me.”