Johannesburg - National 400 metre hurdles record holder LJ van Zyl says he would rather be the underdog than the favourite going into the London Olympic Games at the end of July.
GALLERY: Past weekend in pictures
Van Zyl clocked the four fastest times in the world over the one-lap barriers last year but could not carry his form through to the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, where he secured the bronze medal.
"I don't want to go into something like the Olympics as the number one," Van Zyl said.
"I want to be second, third or fourth (fastest in the world). I always run better when I am the underdog."
He said he had learned a valuable lesson from last season when he hit the ground running early in the domestic campaign.
"I reached my top form from February through to June and my petrol ran out by the time of the World Championships," Van Zyl said.
"Luckily I pulled through to win the bronze medal."
The 26-year-old clocked 47.66 seconds in his first race of 2011, improving Llewellyn Herbert's 11-year-old SA record by 0.15 seconds in Pretoria.
"This year my plan is to hit that top form by June, July and August," Van Zyl said.
"I have to be at my best those three months, which is the period of the Olympic Games.
"I want to go to the Olympics with a time of 47 seconds. Even if it is a 47.99, for confidence I would like to have a 47."
He will be in action in his first international race of the season at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting on Saturday.
Unlike last year, Van Zyl had a rocky start to his 2012 campaign as he was nursing a niggling injury going into the SA Senior Championships in Port Elizabeth in April.
He said his reluctance to listen to the advice of his coach, Hennie Kotze, who suggested he withdraw from the championships, set him back a bit.
"I was a little bit upset with myself because Hennie said 'relax, recover first, train again, then we can run in Doha'," Van Zyl said.
"I thought, 'oh well, I can still run well even though I have a niggle'.
"Then things didn't go that well and I ran poorly and afterwards I had to go for some treatments, which worked pretty well, and now I am back in training."
Van Zyl said his coach was correct 90 percent of the time and he should have listened to Kotze's advice.
"I didn't have to run at the SA Championships because I had already qualified twice for the Olympics."
He was excited about the prospect of a South African 4x400m relay team running at the Rome Diamond League meeting on May 31.
The relay squad will consist of Van Zyl, Ofentse Mogowane, Willie de Beer, Shaun de Jager and Lebogang Moeng.
"Those are the five guys that will be in the squad and it is the first time that I will be running a relay at the Diamond League, so I am really looking forward to that," Van Zyl said.
"We have a good chance in the relay (at the London Games) and I think the more we train together and run together the better our chances will be."
The men's 4X400m relay squad, consisting of Shane Victor, Oscar Pistorius, Mogawane, De Beer and Van Zyl, bagged a silver medal at last year's global championships.
Van Zyl said the relay team would take to the track two hours after his individual hurdles race in Rome.