Road to London: LJ van Zyl

2012-05-18 13:15

Cape Town - In the ninth in a series of Q 'n A style interviews with South African sportsmen and women ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Graeme Joffe chats to SA athlete, LJ van Zyl.

Road to London: Bridgette Hartley

Road to London: Kate Woods

Road to London: Cameron van der Burgh
Road to London: Mbulaeni Mulaudzi

Road to London: Gideon Sam

Road to London: Marcus Retief

Road to London: Freedom Chiya

Road to London: Irvette van Blerk

Road to London: Chad le Clos

GRAEME JOFFE: South African 400 metre hurdler, LJ van Zyl, ek vra nou vir verskoning, my Afrikaans is heeltemaal kak, ons moet Engels praat.
LJ VAN ZYL: No its fine, I think my English is better the last few years than it was at the previous Olympic Games.

JOFFE: (laughter) you have had four years to work on it.
VAN ZYL: Yes, I have had some coaching, we have actually got a Mozambican guy in the team, and he can only speak English, so I have improved a lot since he is my training partner.

JOFFE: Speaking of partners, your fiancé Irvette van Blerk qualified for the Olympic Marathon with a great run in the London Marathon. You must have been really proud of her.
VAN ZYL: Yes, of course I am very proud of her.

JOFFE: How are you preparations for London coming along?
VAN ZYL: No, very good, been training very hard and also got four IAAF Diamond League meetings before the Olympics – so, everything going according to plan.

JOFFE: You were fifth in the 400m hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and with that experience under the belt. You must feel that you have a great chance to medal in London.
VAN ZYL: Yes of course, my first immediate goal is, just make it to the final and I will improve on my fifth place, so then I will be very happy.

JOFFE: Last year bronze at the World Champs, but not one of your best performances?
VAN ZYL: Ja, if you look at the whole year, I ran my best races from February to the middle of June, so if I can just get that shape before the Olympic Games, then I will definitely being doing very well. I have got the four fastest times last year, if I can just get it this year on the right time, then it will be a different colour.

JOFFE: Is hurdles your preference?
VAN ZYL: Definitely, hurdles is my passion and I wish I could go to the Olympics for both, for flat and hurdles, but the programme, the hurdles final is the same day as the 400m heats, but I will definitely be there in the 4x400m relay team.

JOFFE: So, we will have a 4x400m relay team competing in London?
VAN ZYL: Yes, and also that team that is competing at the Olympics will be competing the end of the month in Rome.

JOFFE: Born in Bloem, are you a Grey boy as well?

VAN ZYL: Yes, I am a Grey boy, I matriculated in 2003.

JOFFE: What an institution, sports star after sports star coming out of Grey Bloem.
VAN ZYL: Ja, it is a fantastic school. I think if everybody can get an opportunity to go to Grey, it would be worth it.

JOFFE: Did you play any other sport at school?
VAN ZYL: Yes, I played under 16A rugby at Grey but after I won the World Juniors, the principal told me no, leave the rugger behind and go for the athletics.

JOFFE: Were you a wing or centre?
VAN ZYL: I was a left wing.

JOFFE: You must have scored plenty of tries?
VAN ZYL: Ja, I did and my claim to fame is under 15A, we played Affies and I scored two tries against Pierre Spies, he was also a wing at that stage. That is my claim to fame.

JOFFE: (laughter) So, you went right around Pierre Spies without a problem.
VAN ZYL: He never saw me until today.

JOFFE: (laughter) LJ, some of your other hobbies?
VAN ZYL: Hunting and I am also a cattle farmer, having grown up on a farm.

JOFFE: What is your motto in life?
VAN ZYL: I think my motto is, go big or go home, everything you take on, go flat out, or leave it, if you go half, half, even to a competition, rather leave it, go full out and do your best.

JOFFE: I asked Irvette last week if you guys would be sharing a room at the Olympic Village in London, and she it would be too stressful.
VAN ZYL: Better that we stay in separate rooms and I am a senior now in the Olympic Team, hopefully, I will get my own room. So, she can come visit for an hour or two.

JOFFE: It would be great to see you and Irvette on the podium in London. Wishing you both the best of luck. 
VAN ZYL: Thank you very much Graeme.

Catch Graeme Joffe on SportsFire every Monday and Thursday at 17:30 on Radio Today, 1485am in JHB, National on DStv audio channel 169 and streaming worldwide on Follow Graeme Joffe on Twitter: @joffersmyboy

Louis Jacob van Zyl, 26, is the South African record holder in the 400m hurdles with a personal best of 47.66 seconds. He is a three-time African Champion in the event and competed for his country at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he finished in fifth position. Van Zyl was the 2002 World Junior Champion over 400m hurdles and reached the World Championships final at the age of 20 in 2005. His breakthrough into the senior ranks came in 2006 when he won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships, as well as silver medals at the IAAF World Cup and IAAF World Athletics Final. He became the All-Africa Games champion in 2007.

LJ van Zyl in training for the London 2012 Olympics (Gallo Images)