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Hurdles ace Nel welcomes new competition

Nel

No stranger to winning South African titles in the 400m hurdles, even Team South Africa’s 2018 Commonwealth Games athlete Wenda Nel can be excused if her fifth win is the one she’ll remember for a long time to come!

The weekend win at the national track and field championships at Tuks Stadium in Pretoria was the hardest she’s ever had to fight to get across the finish line first.

Going into the last flight of hurdles, it was no foregone conclusion that she would win as the Tuks athlete and 17-year-old world youth champion, Zeney van der Walt (Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool), were running shoulder to shoulder.

Unfortunately for Van der Walt, she made the slightest of errors in negotiating the final hurdle, not that it meant the fight to win the coveted title became any less intense. Nel just managed to take the victory on the line, winning in 55.01sec with the young upstart finishing in 55.05.

Van der Walt sliced 0.69sec off Myrtle Bothma’s South African junior record (55.74) set way back in 1983. Encouraging is that she predicted confidently afterwards that she’s capable of running an even faster time, hinting that sub-55 is a realistic goal.

Nel praised Van der Walt’s never-say-die attitude and is hoping it’s not going to be the last of their titanic duels over the hurdles. In the last six years, the Tuks athlete has been notching up victories with monotonous ease in local races, usually winning by a good few metres.

The only time Nel has been beaten by a South African hurdler was a few years back at the national championships in Stellenbosch, but then she had taken a tumble and still got up to finish second.

‘This was one of the toughest races but also one of the most exciting. Last Thursday, when I won in a time of 54.96 at the Grand Prix meeting, I was as usual in a lone fight. To be challenged the way Zeney did forced me out of my comfort zone. In the past when I was in such a situation, I was the one to make a mistake, or even worse, just gave up. This time I managed to stay focused. That’s a big positive I can take from the race going on to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

‘The way I executed my race was far from perfect. I was strong in between the hurdles, but my technique was sloppy going over. All that mattered was to be first over each hurdle. In international racing, that could cost me,’ explained the Tuks athlete.

Nel also proved she’s in better form than she’s previously been at this stage of the season. She’s now won her last three races running times of 54.96, 55.31 and now 55.01.

Photo: Reg Caldecott


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