Nel's road to Beijing – and then on to Rio – is on track | TeamSA - TeamSA

Nel’s road to Beijing – and then on to Rio – is on track

African and South African 400-metre hurdles champion Wenda Nel is determined to advance at least another step further in her hurdles career this season and hoping to get her 2015 season off on a winning note on Friday evening.
As the Pretoria based athlete said at the tail-end of last season: ‘According to the proverb, “you win some, you lose some” and I’m a firm believer in going forward in my athletics career step by step.’
This hpc sponsored athlete is eager to resume her racing and will line up for the flat 400m at the one-hour meeting at the Univerisity of Pretoria. ‘It will be interesting to see how I do on Friday.  My training has been going very well and it feels as if there might be a fast time in my legs.
‘Last year I started off my season with a time of more or less 53.8 seconds in the 400. This time around I hope to run a time of in the low 53’s, which will prove that I am on track to have a good season.’
Nel’s best time in the 400m is 52.5.  She admits that the decision of her coach, Hennie Kotzé, to coach in Saudi Arabia this season was a slight setback at first. ‘I would have loved to work with “Oom Hennie” for at least one more season, but I understand his reasons for leaving. Luckily most of the hard work had been done and my relationship with my new coach, Irma Reyneke, seems to be working well.
‘Her approach to coaching is slightly different. She puts much emphasis on speed work combined with endurance.  Hennie Kotzé also considered endurance to be of great importance.’
The South African Championships will probably be the first time that Nel will compete in the 400 hurdles this season. ‘The fact that the championships will be held in Stellenbosch will give me an opportunity to redeem myself.  At the 2013 SA’s I tripped over a hurdle, took a tumble and had to settle for second place. Hopefully luck will be on my side this time around,’ said Nel, who has won the SA title in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Nel, who was a finalist at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, has set her sights on reaching the finals of the World Championships in Beijing as well. ‘I know it will require much hard work and huge sacrifices to do so, but it can be done.’
According to Nel, if she gets another opportunity to represent South Africa at the World Championships or at the Olympic Games next year, her approach would be somewhat different.  ‘I have learned that it is important not to allow people’s great expectations to get the better of you.’
A definite highlight for Nel last year was the way she managed to improve on her best 400-hurdles time. When she won the 400 hurdles at the South African championships (held at the LC de Villiers stadium of the University of Pretoria) in 54.92, she caused quite a stir as she was only the third local woman to do so. The other two were Myrtle Bothma (53.74 –1986) and Surita Febbraio (54.05 – 2003).
There are countless examples of ‘one-hit wonders’ in South African athletics – athletes who achieve one world-class performance before  their careers fizzle out into mediocrity.
Because Nel is fully aware of this phenomenon, one of her major goals after the national championships was to prove that breaking through the 55 barrier was not a once-off fluke.
In Huelva, Spain, she managed to do so by winning in a time of 54.88. Then in Marrakech, Morocco, she won in an even faster time of 54.82s.
Her consistency to date must surely be considered by many as an encouraging sign that she is truly on track to run a great race at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Picture of Nel putting in some hard work at the gym, courtesy of Reg Caldecott