‘With age comes wisdom’ is how the old saying goes, but listening to LJ van Zyl talking about his chances at the World Championships in Beijing, it seems that fatherhood can also be a bearer of wisdom.
‘It is such a huge honour to represent South Africa at the World Championships again, especially considering the huge dip I went through. There was a time when I thought I would never compete at this level again,’ said 2006 Commonwealth Games champion Van Zyl who will be in action in the 400-metre hurdles heats on Saturday.
The next three weeks will be hectic for Van Zyl in more ways than one. If everything goes according to plan he will run the final in Beijing on 25 August, then fly back to Europe to compete in two more Diamond League Meetings, the second being in Brussels on 11 September. Three days later Van Zyl plans to be at his wife’s side when she gives birth to their son. Irvette van Zyl was, along with Van Zyl, part of Team SA at the 2012 Olympics.
Van Zyl’s reaction when asked about his busy schedule was ‘I am truly blessed’.
It will be the sixth time that the Tuks/HPC athlete will compete in the Championships. It would have been seven times but he had to withdraw in 2003 because he had to prepare for his matric exams.
Van Zyl has certainly gained wisdom since his first participation in Helsinki where he finished sixth in the final in a time of 48.54sec. His participation in the Championships has actually been a roller coaster ride of highs and many lows. In Osaka (2007) and Berlin (2009) he failed to qualify for the final. Daegu (2011) will always be a highlight because he won a bronze medal, but Moscow (2013) was again frustrating because he failed to qualify for the final.
‘The most important lesson I have learned when it comes to the Championships, is not to think about the final when you still have to run the heats. To be successful you have to realise that the Championships consist of three races, each with its own unique challenge. At the semi-finals things really start to heat up. Just think about it. There will be 24 of us competing and only eight will go through to the final. This will obviously make for some tough racing and even the smallest mistake can cost you dearly.’
Van Zyl is not prepared to make any bold predictions about his chances. ‘As I have said, it is an honour to represent my country and I can only promise that I will give it my best. Whether that will be good enough to win a medal remains to be seen. But my participation in the Diamond League, where I managed to finish second in three of my races, was a good confidence booster for me.’
According to Van Zyl the fact that he was able to consistently run fast times is even more important. His best time this season of 48.78 places him 15th on the IAAF rankings.
Van Zyl expects Bershawn Jackson (US) and Johnny Dutch (US) to be the athletes to beat in the final. ‘But the Championships can be very unpredictable. You can never be sure who the in form athletes will be because there is often an athlete who causes a major surprise. That is why I try not to focus on my opponents but rather on my own race. In other words, I try to control the controllable.’
The fact that Van Zyl will be competing in his sixth Championships could lead to the assumption that he is near the end of his career, but this is certainly not the case.
‘If my body holds up I would love to represent South Africa at one more Championships and also at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. I guess it would then be a good time to retire.’
Last year’s Commonwealth Champion and African Champion, Cornel Fredericks, is the other Tuks/HPC athlete who will be in action in the 400 hurdles.
Picture of Van Zyl, courtesy of Reg Caldecott