Pretoria - Lining up at his sixth IAAF World Championships, LJ van Zyl is experienced enough not to allow his imagination to run away with him.
“I am not putting any pressure on myself, I’m not making predictions, it is just a massive privilege to be going and representing my country,” Van Zyl told Sport24 before his departure for the world championships in Beijing from August 22-30.
Van Zyl will join veteran distance runner Hendrick Ramaala in the exclusive club of athletes to have represented South Africa at six world championships.
Van Zyl made his debut in Helsinki in 2005 where he reached the 400m hurdles final as a 20-year-old.
“This could have been my seventh but in 2003 when I was in matric I decided to focus on my exams.
“It is now 10 years later and in that time I have learned a lot of lessons, I’ve made some serious mistakes but I’ve learned from them.”
The South African men’s 400m record-holder is enjoying his best season since 2011 when he set a new national mark of 47.66 seconds in his specialist event.
Van Zyl believed the lack of local permit meetings early in the season was a blessing in disguise for South African athletics.
Athletes did not have to peak early in the season and instead turned their focus on the international season where they posted superb times with 12 South African records set in track and field alone this year.
“Everyone only started running later this year and I think that was one of our biggest mistakes in the past,” Van Zyl said.
“In the past I had to be ready by February to be ready for the domestic series’ and now we only start running at nationals which gives us two more months of winter training.”
In May, Van Zyl won the 200m hurdles at the GreatCity Games in Manchester, equalling the world record of 22.10 set by Andy Turner in 2010.
He managed two Diamond League second-place finishes while dipping below 49 seconds in the 400m hurdles three times this season at major international meets.
His personal best time is still the second fastest time since 2011 behind Dominican athlete Felix Sanchez’s Olympic-title winning run of 47.63.
Van Zyl’s career had been in a state of decline since his record-breaking year and he even considered calling an end to a career spanning more than a decade.
Since winning the bronze medal at the 2011 Daegu World Championships, Van Zyl has failed to make it into finals at major competitions.
After missing out on a final berth at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, he decided to hang up his spikes following the Africa Championships in Marrakech in August.
Then long-time coach Hennie Kotze broke the news that he would part ways with Van Zyl to take up a position in Saudi Arabia.
Instead of following through with his retirement decision, Van Zyl started training with Irma Reyneke who has rejuvenated his career.
Four months after joining his new coach he set personal best times in the 200m, dipping below 21 seconds on three occasions.