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Olympian Coertzen calls time on decathlon career

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By Mark Etheridge

World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games… since 2009 South African decathlete Willem Coertzen has ticked all of those boxes.

But eight years down the road he’s ticked the final box on his career, and it’s the box marked R for Retirement.

It’s a decision that wasn’t reached in split seconds, but was more a case of the drip effect.

‘It’s been coming for a while now,’ Coertzen told Team SA. ‘Especially since last year was so frustrating to me, working very hard towards the Rio Olympics and I reckon that’s where the mistake came, I should have taken it easier or trained smarter.

‘That was the plan,’ he says. ‘To cut down and get fresher. The training was definitely going better this year, but it seems like in competition my mind and body just didn’t get along.’

Coertzen, now 35, admits that his confidence levels and self-belief plummeted to an all-time low and he decided the best thing was to set a goal or ‘go home’.

‘I decided to get myself in the best shape possible and then compete in Kladno, Prague. If I could get the World Championships qualification standard it would be great and I could finish the year strongly.’

The alternative was calling it quits and that proved the case as he returned a score of 7804 points. His career-high was the 8398 score in Talence, France, almost three years ago to the week.

‘I always said when I’m not competitive on the world stage anymore (as in scoring less than 8000 points) then it’s time to move on.

‘Looking back, there are definitely a lot more highs than lows during my time as an athlete, but taking all of that out of the equation, all the places I got to see and the friends I had the privilege of making and people I got to meet over this 10-year journey are absolutely priceless and would always be very special to me.

‘The support I got from the public was always very encouraging and always close to my heart.

‘Decathlon teaches you a lot about yourself and how you can push yourself through boundaries and pain, and taking all that with me as I go on to another part of my life will benefit me so much, and has made me a stronger person than I was beforehand.’

Coertzen is confident that the next wave of talent is there to continue the upward curve.

‘I think we have amazing talent here in South Africa. Fredriech Pretorius is doing well and moving forward, I believe that South Africans are perfect for the decathlon, we are all very multi-sport oriented, with very good coordination and skillsets.

‘It’s just a shame we lose these athletes, they either get lost somewhere without any coaching or identification, or due to the current state of athletics, rather go and do another sport where everything is run better.

‘It’s a shame, but strangely enough our athletes still thrive through all of this and it just shows the type of character South African athletes possess — incredible!

‘Fredriech is doing well, I’ve always though he has loads of potential since he was a youth. I saw him in Port Elizabeth for the first time in 2012 and could see there’s potential. Just how much is for us to see, the decathlon world is unforgiving, you only get so many chances to compete in a year, but believe he can do well and fly the flag high abroad.

‘He’s got a good solid head on his shoulders and that’s one of the key ingredients for a good decathlete.

Coertzen took time to reflect on the highs and lows of his nine-year senior career.

HIGHS

Mauritius – 2008: ‘I broke the SA record for the first time and the start of my athletics career.’

Gotzis – 2009: ‘It was the first time I broke 8000 points and got qualification for World Champs.’

Berlin – 2009: ‘My first World Champs and a taste of the big stage! I’ll never forget that feeling when I walked out on day one for the 100m and the stadium was absolutely packed. It was just a great two days of competition although I snapped my pole in the pole vault (there was always something happening in the pole vault for me and it never really stopped from there! I should have known it was going to be my Achilles heel for the rest of my career.’

Port Elizabeth – 2012: ‘Getting the Olympic standard after it was bumped up to 8200 points.’

London – 2012: ‘My first Olympics, what a feeling, the ultimate of ultimates for any athlete, I think it was so special for me as well as I was living and training in the UK then, so literally saw everything starting from scratch from the first brick that was laid, if you put it that way. I used the Central line a lot while in London and Stratford station was always en route to where I was going, so I saw the whole Olympics unfold, and then finishing ninth as well. Wow, I never thought that a little boy from a small town like Nigel would be able to say that at an Olympic Games I’d be the ninth-best guy in the world on those two days, was quite something for me.

Moscow – 2013: ‘Finishing top 10 again at World Championships… I was very happy with that.’

Gotzis – 2015: My podium finish in Gotzis meant I was the first South African ever to achieve this and I also broke my SA record for the seventh time and taking the African record.

Talence – 2015: ‘I was the first African athlete ever to win this prestigious event in France. Another highlight for me as well is to have achieved a podium finish in every IAAF combined events challenge on the circuit during the course of my career.’

LOWS

Beijing – 2008: ‘I got the B-Qualifying standard for Olympics, but wasn’t selected, my training partner in the UK scored the same as me and was selected to represent England… I was gutted.’

Glasgow – 2014: ‘I was in very good shape going into my first Commonwealth Games and then injured my ankle in a competition two weeks prior to Glasgow that forced me to withdraw during the high jump, and that almost felt like the beginning of my saga at every major champs after that.’

Beijing – 2015: ‘Probably the biggest disappointment for me. I was in the best shape of my career and just couldn’t pull it through there. The travelling got the better of me and I was very tired and drained going to the competition, so was so disappointed and frustrated.’

Rio – 2016: ‘Just disappointing…’

Picture of Coertzen competing at the Rio Olympics courtesy of Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)


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