Cape Town - Three spots available with four athletes battling to qualify and only 28 days remaining means the qualification to represent South Africa in the 400-hurdles at the Olympic Games in Rio is sure to become a tightly contested affair.
As things stand at the moment only LJ van Zyl from Tuks is certain of competing at the Games. His winning time of 48.67 seconds is the combined second fastest time of the season so far in international athletics.
According to the season’s results, Lindsay Hanekom is currently South Africa’s second-best hurdler with his time of 49.03 seconds at the South African Open Championship in Bloemfontein.
After his 49.24 seconds performance over the weekend, LeRoux Hamman is third. Somewhat surprisingly it seems that the 2014 Commonwealth Champion, Cornel Fredericks, is the one who has yet to qualify. His best time so far is 49.75 seconds, which he ran at the South African Championships in Stellenbosch.
The qualifying period for the Olympic Games is from 1 May 2015 to 11 July 2016. So as far as the 400-hurdles athletes are concerned a lot can change from now until 11 July.
To their credit the athletes relish the current competitive environment they find themselves in. No one is begrudging anyone his success. In fact, for all of them it is important that South Africa’s proud history in the 400-hurdles should continue.
In spite of not yet having qualified Fredericks is quite relaxed. He is biding his time, confident that there will be a good race in his legs. It might just be tonight when he will compete in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Fredericks told SuperSport.com, “My training has been going really well. What is more important is that I am injury free. So it is just a question of staying focused and making sure that I do the small things right when I race. I know some people may presume that I am under pressure to get the qualification out of the way but I am not obsessed about it. I have proven to myself that I can come up with a good race when it matters.”
Cold, windy and wet weather has made for some tough going so far in Europe.
“I won’t be too worried about tomorrow’s weather. The fact that I have been training in England since last year means that I am used to running in the cold. Sometimes during the winter we trained in temperatures of 10 degrees and colder.
“What is more important is the fact that I have not competed in more than five races over the past two years. It is one thing to train and something else to race. My body has to get used to racing again. This I can promise, I still have the hunger to succeed and I firmly believe that I still have two or three good years of racing left.
“What I really would love is to have two to three years without any serious setbacks. So far my best years were 2011 when I finished fifth in the World Championship final in Daegu and 2014,” said the Tuks/HPC athlete.
There is a good reason why 2014 stands out for Fredericks. It was the season when he could seemingly do nothing wrong. In 13 races he only failed once to finish in the top three (finishing fourth) and he was victorious on seven occasions.
He won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, the African Athletics Championships and the Continental Cup meeting. To top it all he finished third in the 400-hurdles Diamond League standings.
Fredericks is grateful for his friendship with Elroy Gelant, South African record holder in the 5000m.
“Elroy is like a big brother to me and somebody who inspires me. His run in Hengelo when he set a new South African record of 13:04.88 was really inspiring.”
The South African 400-hurdles champion, Wenda Nel (Tuks/HPC), will also compete in Lucerne on Wednesday (June 15).