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Hurdles ace Nel looks to surprise herself in Eugene

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‘So near and yet so far’ is the dilemma which the South African 400-metre hurdles champion, Wenda Nel, will face during her international campaign, which starts on Saturday when she competes in the Diamond League Meeting in Eugene, USA.

The Tuks athlete knows she is capable of running times close to 54 seconds, but there is no definite formula she can follow to guarantee that she shaves off those valuable hundredths of a second.

‘It is easy when you start out in the 400-hurdles. In the first two or three seasons, if you put in the hard work you can improve by a second or two each year. The real battle against the stopwatch starts once you start dipping under 55 seconds.

‘At the start of this season, I was slightly frustrated because I realised I am so close to the goals I have set myself. Yet I’m not sure as to what I should or should not do to improve on the times I am running. We are talking about marginal gains,’ said Nel who boasts a personal best time of 54.37s.

In a way, Nel actually knows what she needs to do. She proved it two weeks ago when she set a new best time in the 400 metres, running 52.03sec in cold rainy conditions during a league meeting at Tuks.

‘I was quite surprised about my performance as I had decided beforehand that I’m going to forego on any aspirations of running a fast time.  I just raced for the sake of racing. The fast time just happened.”

The Tuks athlete admits it will be a big mistake to get obsessed about running specific times, especially in the 400m-hurdles, where if an athlete tries and forces something, it usually leads to costly mistakes.

‘So perhaps on Saturday, I should just settle in my starting blocks and race to the best of my ability. Who knows, maybe I will surprise myself again.’

Nel has only competed in one 400m-hurdles race so far this season. It was at the South African Championships in Potchefstroom where she won, in a time of 55.16s. She is happy about the fact that she added another title to her ever-growing collection of national titles, however, she readily admits that tactically it was not a well-executed race.

‘I started off way too slow. I only realised that afterwards, because I had so much left in the tank. I probably could have raced to a much faster time.  I definitely don’t want to race like that again in Eugene.’

Saturday is going to be interesting, as Zuzana Hejnova (Czech Republic), a two-time world champion, Dalilah Muhammad (USA) the current Olympic champion and the Olympic silver medallist Sarah Petersen (Denmark) will all compete in the same race.

Caster Semenya (800 metres) and Sunette Viljoen (javelin) are the other South Africans who will be in action in Eugene.

Picture of Nel courtesy of Reg Caldecott


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