Olympics 2012

Viljoen seeks historic medal

2012-07-17 07:58
Sunette Viljoen (Gallo)
Johannesburg - A personal best 69.35-metre throw last month suggests South African Sunette Viljoen is capable of becoming the first African to win an Olympic women's javelin medal.

Europeans have dominated the event since its introduction in 1932, finishing first 15 times while Cuba have collected two gold medals and the United States one through Babe Didrikson 80 years ago.

Didrikson won with a throw of 43.68 and the event has come a long way since with the world record 72.28 set by Czech Barbora Spotakova in German city Stuttgart four years ago.

Spotakova finished second behind 28-year-old Viljoen at the June Diamond League meet in New York and the constantly smiling South African sensed a slight chill in a once warm friendship as the London Games draw near.

Neither excelled at another Diamond League event in London last weekend with Spotakova (64.19) second and Viljoen (63.33) fourth as Katherine Sayers (66.17) of Great Britain won with a personal best fling.

Viljoen preferred to forget her showing in wet, gloomy London and recall her night of joy on the other side of the Atlantic, which raised belief that a gold medal is possible.

"It was an amazing feeling. Wow! Best throw in the world this year plus South African, African and Commonwealth records. It is an achievement I am extremely proud of because I have worked extremely hard for it.

"I still have a few metres in me. You will always be nervous ahead of an Olympics, but I am prepared and that means I have nothing to be afraid of," added the woman who played cricket for her country as a 15-year-old.

South African journalists believe Viljoen is up there with 800m women's runner Caster Semenya and 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl as the best medal prospects among the athletics team.

But while the spotlight focuses on Semenya, who has world championships 800m gold and silver medals to her credit ahead of an Olympics debut in London, and double-amputee 400m runner Oscar Pistorius, Viljoen maintains a low profile.

It helps that home is a flat she shares with her parents, sister and son Henre, 8, in north-west mining town Rustenburg, which is several hours drive west of Johannesburg.

Living there keeps Sunette away from the media glare and allows her to make uninterrupted preparations, including a weekly drive south to university town Potchefstroom for sessions with coach Terseus Liebenburg.

The man who guided Marius Corbett to a 1997 world championship javelin title, shows no mercy as he makes Viljoen race over hurdles to boost explosive power before taking her to the weights room.

Here the strength of Viljoen is clearly visible as she takes a 50-kilogram weight, drops her hands behind her head until they nearly touch the floor and then whips it back up to thunderous applause.

Not bad for someone who ditched javelin throwing aged 12 after hitting herself on the head trying it out. A teacher persuaded Sunette to try again several years later and she has barely looked back since.

There have been a few hiccups -- she does not fondly recall her early exits at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics -- but Viljoen has really taken off during the past four years.

Her best throw in 2008 was 62.24, in 2009 it was 65.43, in 2010 it was 66.38 and a throw of 68.38 earned her a bronze medal at the 2011 world championships in South Korea.

Liebenburg believes the mental and physical strength of happy-go-lucky Viljoen can take her to the podium in London -- 80 years is far too long for African women javelin throwers to be out in the Olympic cold.

Read more on:    olympics 2012  |  sunette viljoen  |  athletics
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