World 400-metre hurdles bronze medallist LJ van Zyl has the ability to win the gold medal at next year’s London Olympic Games, according to his coach.
Hennie Kotze said on Wednesday his charge had the confidence to beat newly-crowned world champion Dai Greene of Britain next year, writes Sapa’s Ockert de Villiers.
Van Zyl had the upper hand against Greene on a few occasions this year which would, according to Kotze, give him the edge when they met at the global sporting showpiece.
Ironically, it was the disappointment of relinquishing his Commonwealth title to Greene last year that ignited Van Zyl’s new found drive to be the best in the world.
“The manner in which he has beaten Dai Greene at a couple of Diamond League meetings should give him the confidence to win at the Olympic Games,” said Kotze, speaking at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique.
“LJ is hungry to beat him [Greene] and he is the kind of guy, when you create that hunger, who will reach the top. The fact that he knows he can beat him increases his hunger.”
The 25-year-old had a superb start to the season when he clocked 47.66 seconds in his first race of the year, improving Llewellyn Herbert’s 11-year-old national record by 0.15 seconds in Pretoria.
As the season progressed, Van Zyl proved it was not a flash-in-the-pan performance and went on to dip under 48 seconds on three more occasions, setting the four fastest times in the world this year.
Kotze said Van Zyl hit a snag when he picked up a hamstring injury before the Diamond League meeting in New York in June.
This was reflected in his performance as he ran his slowest race of the year, clocking 49.07 to finish fourth. The same injury saw him jog home in last place at the penultimate Diamond League meeting of the season in Zurich last week.
It also ruled him out of the Diamond League meeting in Brussels on Friday where he would have challenged for the number one ranking in his discipline in the series.
“He really wanted to win the Diamond League but he could not carry on,” said Kotze. “He gave everything and has shown so much guts up to this point.”
Kotze believed the sub-48 second races Van Zyl ran at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, earlier this month, including his leg of the 4x400m relay final, had taken their toll on his hamstring.
The niggling injury, Kotze said, may also have had an effect on Van Zyl’s mindset as he made a technical mistake at the ninth hurdle in the final of his individual event. “I don’t know how much his hamstring influenced the length of his strides, and he has shown so much character and focus, but it proved too much in the end,” Kotze said.
He added that Van Zyl would have to go for a scan to assess the extent of the injury before he started training again.
They would also have to reassess the length of his training season after they were late out of the blocks this year.
“We started the year late even though he ran well at the South African championships and kept with the training programme,” said Kotze.
“We might have to think of not letting him run in the South African season but I will have to find out from ASA (Athletics South Africa) if he would be allowed to do it.”
Meanwhile, Kotze denied that Van Zyl had reached his peak performance too early in the season.
He said SA women’s 400m hurdles champion Wenda Theron and Mozambican 400m hurdler Kurt Couto, both competing at the All Africa Games, were on the same training programme and peaked at the right time.
“When he is hungry for something big, he will go for it and that is just how he is,” Kotze said of his charge. “He has that amazing temperament for winning and one has to embrace it.”