No Olympic stress for LJ

2012-04-18 21:30

Johannesburg - South African one-lap hurdles record holder LJ van Zyl says he does not feel the pressure of Olympic medal expectations as South Africa celebrates the 100-day countdown to the start of the London Olympic Games on July 27.

"I am more excited than I am stressed," Van Zyl said at the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC)-hosted celebration of the milestone here on Wednesday.

He was nursing a knee injury and went for an MRI scan on Wednesday to find the cause.

"It is perhaps a blessing in disguise (the injury). I can use this time to recover and rest," he said.

The 400m hurdler was fresh off a disappointing SA Senior Championships in Port Elizabeth this weekend, where he relinquished his title to Cornel Fredericks.

Van Zyl said he would be out of action for the next two weeks to recoup, as overtraining had taken a toll on his body.

During celebrations on Wednesday, 100 balloons with the athletes' dreams and hopes for the Games written on them were released.

"I think the releasing of the hundred balloons was special, that symbolism, and I think SASCOC is really making a lot of effort," Van Zyl said.

"I wrote the word 'faith' on my balloon, because I have faith in what I am doing this year. I am still way off my best, but with faith I will get there."

Sporting hopefuls for the Games, including track and field athletes and members of the national men's hockey team, who will be leaving for their Olympic qualifier tournament in Japan on Thursday, were also in attendance.

Blitzboks sensation Cecil Afrika, former Bafana Bafana captain and now retired football legend Lucas Radebe, golf sensation Ernie Els, and retired international cricket ace Makhaya Ntini were introduced as the South African team's ambassadors.

Afrika, last year's IRB Sevens rugby player of the year, said he was honoured to have been chosen as an ambassador.

"It is an honour and a privilege to be an ambassador and I am looking forward to the Olympic Games. It will be my job to motivate the guys to give their best."

The Blitzbokke star said he used to be a sprint athlete at school and believed if he had given special attention to athletics he could have qualified for the Games.

"You have to back yourself. Give me a year to train for athletics and who knows what could happen," he quipped.

While Afrika is unlikely to go to the Games as an athlete, he could make an appearance at the showpiece in 2016 as part of the Blitzbokke team.

Sevens rugby will debut as an Olympic sport at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to include it at the IOC Congress on October 9, 2009.

"The Olympic Games only come once in a player's career and it is part of my long-term goals to bring an Olympic gold medal home," he said.

"If I am fit enough and still play good rugby then I will be there."

SASCOC chief executive Tubby Reddy said the ambassadors were meant to inspire and mentor the athletes competing at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Following Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula's 'Magnificent Friday' initiative before the soccer, cricket and rugby World Cups, where South Africans were encouraged to wear green and gold on Fridays, SASCOC also launched a supporter's shirt for the Team SA Fridays.

Team SA Fridays, which would start this weekend, aimed to drum up popular support for the SA Olympic team.

Former Proteas cricketer Makhaya Ntini, another ambassador for South Africa, said his main job would be to help athletes overcome the pressures of participating on such a big stage.

"The most important is that we are the people who have been in the situation that they will be facing. We are going to try and calm them down. We are going to be the loudest people in all the stadiums supporting the team."

Golfer Ernie Els, retired footballer Lucas Radebe and Aids campaigner Cynthia Tshaka are the other ambassadors.