Nel faces tough European opener... but she's up for it! | TeamSA - TeamSA

Nel faces tough European opener… but she’s up for it!

South African 400-metre hurdles track champion Wenda Nel is in for a tough challenge when she settles into her starting blocks for the first Diamond League Meeting in Doha on Friday night.
Five of the athletes who contested last year’s World Championships final in Beijing will be competing. The finalists include the two-time world champion, Zuzana Hejnova (Czech Republic), as well as Cassandra Tate (USA) who was third in Beijing.
Six of the athletes competing in Doha have run times faster than Nel’s personal best of 54.37 seconds.
In spite of this Nel is far from being disconsolate. She is in fact looking forward to the challenge.
‘It is the beginning of a new international season and Doha will give me a good indication of whether my preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio is on track. It’s certainly going to be an interesting race. For many of the athletes it will be their first outing over the hurdles while it will be only my second 400-hurdles race of the season,’ said Nel who was seventh in the World Championships final.
As has become the norm before a major race, Nel (Tuks/HPC) is not prepared to commit to any time before her race.
‘Naturally I would like to run a good time and I can honestly say that physically I’m feeling up to doing so, but I have learned over the past few years that racing can be very unpredictable and so it’s best not to become obsessed with times.  But I have a goal in mind that would make me happy on Friday,’ said Nel who won her sixth South African title in Stellenbosch last month in a time of 54.82.
‘I was happy with my performance at the national championships. After analysing my race with my coach, Irma Reyneke, we realised that I perhaps started out a bit too slow over the first 200 metres. Going over the last two hurdles I could feel that I still had a lot left in my legs. We still have to find a balance between starting too slow or fading towards the end due to having started out too fast.’
Nel’s progress as an international 400m hurdles athlete over the past seven years is impressive. In 2010 her best time was 56.96, which ranked her 85th on the IAAF list for best performances of the year. Her best time of 54.37 last year meant that she was ranked 10th on the IAAF list for the year.
An interesting aspect of the Tuks/HPC athlete’s performance last year was the fact that she was able to run times faster than 55 seconds on no less than seven occasions.  Of the 14 400-hurdles races in which she competed she won five, finished second twice and third twice – certainly not a too shabby record.
Other South Africans in action in Doha are: Victor Hogan (discus, who qualified for Rio at last month’s nationals), Dumisane Hlaselo (1500m), Antonio Alkana (110m hurdles), Caster Semenya (800m) and Sunette Viljoen (javelin).

Picture courtesy of Reg Caldecott