By Mark Etheridge
South Africa’s 2012 Olympic track and field campaign got off to a disastrous start on Friday when neither Cornel Fredericks or LJ van Zyl came through the qualifying rounds of the 400-metre hurdles.
Competing at a packed Olympics stadium on the first day of track and field competition Fredericks pulled a hamstring and trailed in eighth (52.29 seconds), while Van Zyl ended sixth in his heat with a 50.31 finish.
The first three athletes of each heat and then the next six fastest went through to the semi-finals.
Running in heat three of six Fredericks was in trouble from the beginning.
“I was quick out of the blocks but then going over the first hurdle I felt something go wrong and then the next hurdle I felt the right hamstring pop,” he said, the disappointment etched all over his face.
Frederick’s heat was won by Commonwealth, European and world champion Dai Greene of Great Britain in 48.98.
“My preparation for the season had gone off so well so this is really frustrating. I really battled down that back straight but I didn’t want to stop. I at least wanted to finish. I guess tis is my season over now.”
Van Zyl went off in lane five as Angelo Taylor scorched into an early lead and ran away from the field.
The world’s fastest one-lap hurdler last year, Van Zyl looked to be running his way into contention as the field came off the final bend, moving into fourth place but there was no customary strong finish for him and he faded to that sixth spot and his dream of an Olympic podium finish faded just as quickly.
“I’m nowhere near the shape I was in last year,” a dejected Van Zyl said afterwards.
“From that bad SA champs I had, my confidence was down and then I had that right knee injury mid-season so I wasn’t really ready for this.
“I gave it my best but it wasn’t good enough today. I lost my rhythm between hurdles five and eight and once you lose that it’s incredibly tough to come back.
“But with our without me we have a great South African team here and I still have the 400m relay to look forward to.
“Now I’ll just support the rest of the athletes and try and help them do the best I can.”
The only other South African athlete in action on Saturday is long jumper Khotso Mokoena, 2008 Olympic silver medallist, who goes off in the long jump qualification round.
Earlier, one of the athletes who trains with Van Zyl at Tukkies in Pretoria, Mozambique’s Kurt Couto was an automatic qualifier with a 49.31 in heat two.