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SA title is a weight off Smit’s shoulders after big adjustments

Smit

By Mark Etheridge

A ‘wake-up’ call after watching South Africa’s fastest man lifting weights in the gym was one of a few factors that powered Tiaan Smit to the national 110-metre hurdles title earlier this month.

Standing 1.92m tall and weighing in at 88kg, the Paul Roos product is not exactly small, but even he was impressed at Akani Simbine’s gains in the gym.

‘I saw Akani ‘deadlift’ 230kg in the gym and it’s no wonder he can consistently run under 10sec for 100m. He’s got such power and at the same time has a relatively light bodyweight,’ reflected the Pretoria powerhouse.

‘I’ve always relied on my power as I don’t think I have that much natural speed, so I’ve realised that if I want to get better as a senior athlete I’ve got to lift heavier weights.’

Smit, who has swopped Stellenbosch for Pretoria after matriculating in 2013, now deadlifts around 210kg, bench presses 150kg and squats 220kg.

The new power boost certainly helped him overcome any hurdles in the SA Championships in Potchefstroom and he admits that he pretty much ran the perfect race as he stopped the clocks at 13.42sec, 0.07sec clear of Western Province’s Antonio Alkana.

‘My preparation went exactly as coach Hennie Kriel and I had planned. I knew I could run that time at SA’s, so it wasn’t a surprise. My training times showed that I had the belief.’

In fact so well prepared was Smit that there was never any thought of stressing. Not only for the SA Champs final, but for any race this to date this year, attested to by the fact that he’s improved his personal best no fewer than four times already since 1 January.

As for the race itself it was, well, business as usual [See the victory salute, below]. ‘I knew if I could get a good start I could put the whole field under pressure and it went precisely as I planned.

‘Antonio is a strong competitor – I know what he’s capable of after training with him for six years. He’s very humble and it’s always nice to settle down into the starting blocks against him.’

Smit

He may only be 22 years old, but young Smit has a wealth of hurdling experience having started the discipline in primary school. But he was a ‘slow starter’.

‘I took part in every SA Championships at primary school level, but never won a medal.

It was in high school that he won his first SA title, the U15 300m hurdles, in 2010. A year later and he was suddenly ranked second on the IAAF rankings in his age group.

His talent then took him to the IAAF World Youth Championships in France as well as the Commonwealth Youth Games on the Isle of Man in the same year.

In 2013, his final year of school at Paul Roos, he improved his SA junior record to 13.51… a mark which still belongs to him.

Then followed a frustrating period of injuries, including a groin operation in 2014. The next year it got worse after he headed north to Pretoria in search of improvement and he picked up a stress fracture in his lower back. Consider 2015 a write-off!

He made his comeback as a senior athlete last year, training with former national champion Shaun Bownes. ‘I ran well under the circumstances, and got fourth at SA’s (13.78). That time surprised me because I was training so little and it was my first year off the high hurdles.’

The fact that he could run that sort of time while struggling with injuries was a big motivating factor and he opted for a patient approach, knowing that the breakthrough would come if he could train and race free of pain.

Then came another definitive moment in his career.

‘In September last year I decided to switch to another coach – the biggest decision of my athletics career.’

The new coach was Pretoria’s Kriel and it was a gamechanger, according to Smit. ‘Hennie is a brilliant coach who goes to great lengths to make sure he gets the best out of his athletes. His approach is completely different to what I’m used to.

‘His approach is very much speed-based. I run shorter distances and fewer repetitions, but the quality of the sessions is very high.’

What now for the new champion?

‘Well there’s still heaps of room for improvement, I’m learning every day how to master the higher hurdles. It’s a huge adaption from junior to senior with lots of changes.’

The good news is that he’s qualified for IAAF World Championships in London later this year (according to the IAAF standard of 13.48). ‘But I’m still hunting that ASA standard of 13.38.

‘I also want to run a few races in Europe and hopefully will qualify there.

‘The main thing is that I’m just happy to be injury-free and can train hard again… and without pain.’

Running, free… appears the way for Tiaan to go!

Pictures of Smit in action at Potchefstroom last week courtesy of Roger Sedres/ImageSA


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